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Congress Must Expand Health Care Now Through the American Rescue Plan

Expanding health care incrementally through the American Rescue Plan will help save lives now, and lay the groundwork for health care for all later.

Participants hold signs while protesting the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act in 2017. (Pre-COVID) (Photo by Albin Lohr-Jones/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Participants hold signs while protesting the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act in 2017. (Pre-COVID) (Photo by Albin Lohr-Jones/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

I would not be here today if it weren’t for the Affordable Care Act. Four years ago, I was diagnosed with stage four cancer, Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The ACA saved my life. Now, we have a moment to expand health care for millions of Americans and save their lives in this pandemic—if we don’t blow it. 

Without the ACA, I could never have afforded the six months of chemotherapy and the month of radiation I needed to be in remission today. It cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to save my life. However, I am fortunate enough to have been able to pay for my monthly ACA premiums for my market-rate insurance policy, even though I did not qualify for any subsidies. Too many others are no longer here today, because they couldn’t afford it. 

Tens of thousands of Americans die every year due to lack of insurance. I would’ve been one of them, had it not been for the ACA. Making the ACA more affordable is not the finish line, but it is a start.

Congress is debating a covid relief bill, which is likely to pass one way or another in the next few days. As written, the American Rescue Plan will extend affordable health care to millions. It will encourage the 12 states that have not expanded Medicaid to cover up to 4 million more low income Americans with health insurance. It will also increase health insurance subsidies for middle class Americans throughout the country via the Affordable Care Act. 

Nearly 30 million Americans don’t have health insurance, and many more are under-insured. Tens of thousands of Americans die every year due to lack of insurance. I would’ve been one of them, had it not been for the ACA. Making the ACA more affordable is not the finish line, but it is a start. Expanding health care incrementally through the American Rescue Plan will help save lives now, and lay the groundwork for health care for all later. And isn’t it our government’s primary job to keep its citizens healthy and safe?

As Executive Director of the non-profit Get America Covered, I spread the word about free and low cost health insurance policies through the ACA. Many middle class Americans around the country that I talk to are priced out of plans today. They make too much money to receive tax credits, yet monthly premiums are still out of reach. The American Rescue Plan would cap everyone’s health care premiums through the ACA at no more than 8.5% of their income, while also beefing up financial help for both the unemployed and lower income families. 

The Medicaid expansion provision is also an opportunity for Texas, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and others to help millions of their most struggling residents get the health care they need, with additional financial incentives to help state budgets weather the extra costs of covering more people with insurance.

As this bill goes through the legislative process, legislators face pressure to make cuts. However, budgets didn’t seem to be an issue when legislators passed a multi-trillion dollar tax cut for the rich just a few years ago. And we all pay now as taxpayers when uninsured people receive uncompensated care from hospitals. 

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For a small fraction of the cost of the 2017 tax breaks, we can expand coverage to save AmeriIf we think too small, or hold out instead for the perfect bill, we will miss this moment to help millions survive and thrive with quality health care and wind up with little or nothing at all. cans now and also build a path towards health care for all. This is our first chance for real health care reform in over a decade. 

In 2009, health care reform didn’t go far enough, and unfortunately left too many people out in the cold. Some of the backlash from the Affordable Care Act in its original form resulted from over promising and under delivering health care to the people who needed it most. 

Years after the ACA became law, the number of working-age adults unable to see a physician due to cost increased from 11.4% in 1998 to 15.7% in 2017. We’re going in the wrong direction.

Now we have the opportunity to repair some of those cracks in the system with the American Rescue Plan. In the midst of a pandemic, we must make sure that everyone can take shelter under a health care structure that covers millions more. 

When you get sick, it turns out everyone has the same needs regardless of party: good quality health care. Too many people don’t have that today. The American Rescue Plan does not make sure everyone can get health insurance, or lower the costs of sky high deductibles and co-pays, but it does ensure many more will be insured with a minimum level of coverage.

As voters, we must call on Congress to pass the covid relief bill now, with all the health care expansion provisions intact as a down payment on reform. If we miss this moment, not only will people from Arizona to West Virginia suffer, but they are unlikely to give a second chance to politicians with empty promises of better care, and we will never gain the votes we need to push for more. This is what we elected Congress and President Biden to do. Now they must do it.

Laura Packard

Laura Packard is a Denver-based health care advocate and founder of Health Care Voices, a non-profit grassroots organization for adults with serious medical conditions, senior advisor to Be a Hero and co-chair of Health Care Voter. Follow her on Twitter: @lpackard

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