When the Supreme Court ruled recently that the Affordable Care Act is constitutional, it was a clear victory for the law and those it is designed to help. Before the court ever spoke, however, the ACA was handing victories to millions of people across the country – providing new or better insurance coverage to children, young adults, seniors and small business owners.
The Catholic health ministry worked hard to enact this law because it would defend life and human dignity, provide health care access to vulnerable persons and hard-working families and reflect the values of a fair and compassionate nation. In large measure, the law is already achieving these important goals.
Just a few examples of how provisions in the ACA are helping Americans right now:
• At least 3 million young adults (under the age of 26) have been able to stay on their parents’ insurance plan
• Some 54 million people of all ages have received free or preventive services like mammograms, colonoscopies, physical exams and cholesterol screenings
• At least 3.6 million seniors have saved $2.1 billion on their prescription drugs, an average of $600 per senior
• More than 50,000 people with serious illnesses have obtained coverage through state high-risk plans put in place by ACA
• Small businesses across the country have received tax credits to help offset the cost of providing coverage to their employees
The law also includes funding for states to develop programs that assist pregnant and parenting women. The funds grant women access to a network of supportive services that can help them complete high school or postsecondary degrees and gain access to health care, child care, family housing and services for those who are victims of domestic or sexual violence .The ACA’s provisions for pregnant and parenting women have often been lost in the clutter of coverage but represent pro-life policies that CHA strongly supported as the law was being written.
In 2014, additional parts of the law will take effect, beginning with state-based health insurance exchanges where individuals and small businesses will be able to shop for affordable health insurance policies. Those who qualify for subsidies will receive help paying premium costs. Medicaid will expand to cover more people who do not currently qualify for the program but also can’t afford insurance on their own.
For low-income families, and for the hospitals and other providers that treat them, Medicaid is a lifeline – a crucial program that connects vulnerable persons with the medical and preventive care they need.
Our Vision, Our Values
There are clear economic reasons for health reform – bending the cost curve, improving efficiency, reducing bureaucracy and boosting the overall economy with a healthier, more productive population.
Economic and systemic improvements are valid and important reasons to make major changes to public policy, and part of why we advocated for the law. Our work on behalf of the ACA, however, was first and foremost about protecting human dignity and making our health care system one that matches our Catholic and national values.
In 2007, CHA collaborated with our members across the country to develop a set of principles outlining our expectations for health reform. That document, “Our Vision for U.S. Health Care,” drew inspiration from Catholic social teaching and named the core values of human dignity, concern for the poor and vulnerable, justice, the common good and stewardship as the optimal foundation of a system that “creates and sustains a strong, healthy national community.”
The document included six principles for a smart and equitable health care system, starting with 100% access, and it became an advocacy tool for CHA and our members. In 2010, we published an updated version of the document, “Realizing Our Vision for U.S. Health Care” to show how the ACA corresponds with most of the expectations we had named.
Perhaps the best illustration of how Catholic values and principles are reflected in the health care law is the individuals, families and businesses that have been helped. CHA has been working over the past several months to find and tell those stories. When you visit www.YouTube.com/HealthReformWorks, you will find the mother whose twin daughters survived cancer and will not have to fear being rejected for coverage because of their prexisting condition.
You will find the senior who no longer worries about affording his prescription medicine. You will find the young adult who is getting the care he needs to continue working on his family farm despite severe arthritis. And you will find the owners of a record store and an auto repair shop who have continued to provide insurance to workers because of the ACA tax credit they received.
For every one of these stories, there are thousands more like them – individuals and families who now have greater health security because of the ACA. We must keep telling these stories, and broadcasting them wherever and whenever we can. The opposition to ACA is primarily founded on misinformation; the best way to combat that misinformation is to explain ACA—and influence public opinion—through the real people it helps.
In the coming months and years, as additional benefits of the law become evident, the Catholic community should explain what an important and necessary tool this law is to protect life and adhere to the social justice teachings of our Church. The ACA is not a perfect law but it is the most significant expansion of coverage since Medicare– and it is a solid foundation on which we can build the health system our nation needs and deserves.