Twelve years ago, Congress passed the Affordable Care Act.
Since then, the ACA has improved life for so many people in my neighborhood, in my county, in our state and across the country. As a retired nurse, I have seen our health care system up close and personal. The ACA, without a doubt, has made a difference in people’s lives.
In 2022, more than 30 million people — a record number — have coverage under the ACA’s provisions through either Medicaid or private health insurance. The number of uninsured people has fallen in all 50 states and the District of Columbia since the implementation of the ACA, with states that expanded Medicaid —like Virginia — experiencing the largest reduction in their uninsured rate. But it’s not just about access to health insurance. It’s also about how our health insurance treats us. More than 130 million people are now protected from discrimination against pre-existing conditions and don’t have to worry about caps or limits on coverage.
When I was a nurse, I saw a lot of people coming to the emergency room with serious medical issues — heart problems, complications from diabetes and infections — that could have been managed with preventive care. I am proud of my years as a nurse, but there’s only so much I can do by myself. By giving patients access to primary care doctors and regular treatment of chronic illness, the ACA has not only improved our overall health system — it has also given people the opportunity to live healthier, better lives. Patients need that baseline of care, including health education, to tackle their problems.
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Over the last two years, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed critical shortcomings in our health care and health insurance systems. The country has seen increased demand for ACA and Medicaid coverage, and elected officials reacted with rescue packages and state policies to ensure that more people could access the health care they needed to stay healthy and protect their families. In 2022, a record number of people enrolled in ACA’s marketplace coverage thanks to extended enrollment periods and discounts on coverage in President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act, which passed as a COVID-19 recovery package.
The American Rescue Plan Act and the ACA made big improvements to make health care more affordable and accessible, but we’re not done. Some improvements made over the past two years will expire unless Congress takes action soon to make them permanent. Other improvements, like making prescription medicine more affordable by allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices, have tremendous public support but are long overdue.
A friend of mine has paid more than $500 for one vial of insulin, a medicine that she needs to stay alive. For so many people, unaffordable medicine — and the ridiculous profits being made by big drug corporations — means making a choice between their health and their family’s wellbeing. In the 10th wealthiest state in the wealthiest country in the world, it is shameful that anyone should be put in that terrible position.
President Biden and Congress must take action now to ensure the continuation of coverage and affordability, to lower drug prices and to strengthen Medicaid and Medicare for the future so that everyone in America has equitable access to the quality affordable health care they need.
Brim is a leader in the Martinsville/Henry County Chapter of Virginia Organizing and a retired nurse.