The public health crisis gripping the United States has thrown into sharp focus just how crucial it is to provide health insurance to as many Americans as possible. This week marks the 10-year anniversary of one of the greatest steps toward that goal that our nation has ever seen: the passage of the Affordable Care Act. Expanding access to health insurance is not just a moral imperative, it is necessary to combat public health crises like the outbreak of COVID-19.
It is vital that those exhibiting coronavirus symptoms have the ability to speak with medical professionals and get tested if those professionals deem it necessary. Those who have contracted the virus must be able to seek and receive the treatment they need to recover and stop the virus’ spread. Cost should never be a barrier to receiving health care and nobody should ever have to decide between paying the bills and getting treatment for health problems, and that is especially true as we work to contain the spread of COVID-19.
When our loved ones, our neighbors, and our fellow Minnesotans are compelled not to seek proper health care due to fears around the cost of such care, that provides COVID-19 with additional opportunities to spread across Minnesota.
I’m reminded of the late Sen. Paul Wellstone’s famous saying that “we all do better when we all do better.” This is true economically and socially, and it’s true when it comes to our physical well-being. We are in this crisis together, and the only way we’ll weather it is by working together.
This brings us to the Affordable Care Act. Since President Barack Obama signed his signature legislative accomplishment into law, over 20 million Americans gained health insurance. Another 9 million Americans are receiving financial assistance to make sure they can pay for their insurance, over 2 million young Americans are able to remain on their parents’ health insurance, and 135 million Americans with pre-existing conditions can no longer be denied coverage or charged more because of those conditions.
While we still have a lot of progress to make toward the goal of insuring every single American, the Affordable Care Act was an incredible step forward for our health care system. As we confront the greatest public health crisis our nation has seen in a century, the ability for tens of millions more Americans to seek and receive the care they need will likely make a major difference when it comes to our ability to beat back COVID-19.
The Affordable Care Act has also provided increased support for rural hospitals, which will no doubt help communities and health care providers across nonmetro Minnesota work through this outbreak.
There’s been a fierce debate about the role of political accountability in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak. Some contend that criticizing the response of elected officials during this crisis makes reaching solutions more difficult. Others believe it is more important than ever to hold our leaders accountable when they fail us. And many of us fall somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. No matter your opinion on our nation’s current political debate, I believe the coronavirus outbreak has made it extremely clear to reasonable Minnesotans of all political affiliations just how important it is for us to continue expanding access to health care.
Despite these uncertain times, I hope you will join me in celebrating the progress we’ve made when we passed the Affordable Care Act 10 years ago, and I hope you will join me in standing up and working to both protect the ACA and build upon its successes.
Now more than ever, we must move forward toward a future where every single American can get the health care they need at prices they can afford.
Ken Martin is chairman of the Minnesota DFL. He wrote this for the News Tribune.