Obamacare: Six years later
3/31/2016, 7:58 p.m.
Marc. H Morial
Today, after almost a century of trying; today, after over a year of debate; today, after all the votes have been tallied, health insurance reform becomes law in the United States of America. Today. It is fitting that Congress passed this historic legislation this week. For as we mark the turning of spring, we also mark a new season in America. In a few moments, when I sign this bill, all of the overheated rhetoric over reform will finally confront the reality of reform.”
— President Obama at signing of Health Insurance Reform Bill, March 2010
On March 23, 2010, President Obama signed the Affordable Health Care Act into law in the East Room of the White House.
Six years later, 20 million people who could not afford health insurance, or were deprived of life-saving coverage because of a pre-existing condition, now have health insurance coverage. Today, our nation is actively narrowing the gap on adverse racial health care disparities. Today, under the law simultaneously loved and reviled as “Obamacare,” most insurance plans fully cover preventative health care services; young adults, who might have otherwise been uninsured, get to stay on their parents’ health insurance plans until age 26; and women are no longer forced to pay more for health insurance because of their gender.
And that is why this week, I will add my voice to the legion of American voices congratulating the current administration on its signature health care law, as well as those calling for the necessary reforms to fix the law’s shortcomings and ensure that this generation and future generations of Americans experience health care as a right, not an exclusive and elusive privilege.
From sea to shining sea, health insurance coverage gains have been shared broadly among American communities. African-Americans have the highest mortality rate of any racial or ethnic group for cancer and Latino communities also suffer from disproportionate rates of illness, such as cervical cancer, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Since the law’s hard-fought inception, the number of uninsured among African-Americans and white people has dropped by more than 50 percent. The Hispanic rate of uninsured has decreased by a quarter, with almost 4 million Hispanic adults gaining coverage under the law.
More than 2 million young adults, who were particularly likely to be uninsured after losing coverage under their parents’ health insurance, are now guaranteed insurance under their parents’ health plans until they are age 26.
Despite all of these gains, Republicans have continued to label the Affordable Care Act a disaster. How can 20 more million Americans with access to life-saving health care ever be described as a disaster? Yet, the Republicans have been engaged in a five-year effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The GOP has busied itself taking more than 50 votes to roll back the law and put the health of millions of Americans at risk. The GOP has never leveled with the American people about a GOP alternative to the Affordable Care Act. Rather than take a position of slash and burn, we need to save what works and improve what doesn’t.
The Affordable Care Act is not the first large-scale government program to face its share of challenges or widespread criticism. Obamacare shares company with the Social Security Act, which was described by a critic as a “fraud on the working man.” Medicare widely was seen as a threat to American freedom. Despite the heated rhetoric, both programs are still here serving the needs of Americans.
While the Affordable Care Act is nowhere near perfect, it is saving lives and putting an end to insurance practices that unfairly deny Americans insurance coverage. Obamacare has a long, bumpy road of reforms to travel, but in year six, it has also come a long way in providing better health choices for the American people.
The writer is president and CEO of the National Urban League. George Curry Media