As I have been reading and watching the media coverage on the Supreme Court’s decision to reject the argument that patients in the 34 states that defaulted to federal exchange should not be entitled to receive subsidies based on 4 words in the law – “established by the state” – I have been surprised and disappointed that so many stories in the press have focused on the 2016 presidential election and not on the 6.4 million Americans who were potentially at risk of losing their subsidies and therefore, their recently acquired and much-needed coverage. Shouldn’t we be talking about the millions of individuals and families who now have affordable health care – or even health care at all – for the first time in their lives? Or talking about patients – like those with a serious illness like cancer – who can no longer be denied coverage based on a pre-existing condition? Why aren’t we interviewing patients whose coverage and access to care will now be preserved instead of interviewing presidential candidates to gain some insight into their 2016 platform?
I have to wonder if any of the politicians who are calling the ACA “an injustice” or “bad for Americans” have ever been without health care themselves or have recently had to support a family on minimum wage or have been diagnosed with a serious condition while they had no health care coverage at all. There is a reason that the majority of personal bankruptcies in this country are related to health care costs.
I am often amazed when I hear people say “I don’t want to pay for other people’s health care because of Obamacare.” Don’t people realize that scenario was more prevalent pre-Obamacare when people were forced to use emergency rooms – the most expensive care – as their primary care? In addition, before the ACA, we were not investing widely in preventative care and wellness- especially for more underserved populations – which are powerful tools in bringing down the cost of health care. And while I have never had children in the public school system in this country, I still pay taxes for public schools because we believe an education is a basic human right. So why not health care? Isn’t that one of our most basic human rights? I also hear many people calling the ACA “socialized medicine” when it is truly nothing more than health insurance reform allowing people to PAY for their own coverage at a rate commensurate with their income. In the past, we saw people who earn $25,000 or $30,000 a year being asked to pay $700 or $800 a month for insurance as an individual purchaser – clearly an impossibility.
At the Cancer Support Community, we believe that all Americans should have access to high quality, comprehensive affordable care that includes medical care, as well as social, emotional and psychological care. We believe that Supreme Court decision is a victory and another step forward towards viewing health care as a basic human right, as they do in other wealthy, developed nations.
To date, 10.2 million Americans have signed up for coverage through the Affordable Care Act, and 8.7 million receive subsidies. In the words of the Chief Justice Roberts in the majority opinion in the case, “Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them.” Those words could not be more true. And now that the spirit and intention of the law has been affirmed by the highest court, it is our hope that we can leave behind the rancor and hostility surrounding this debate and return to the business of caring for patients – caring for the 1.6 million people who will be diagnosed with cancer this year alone – and caring for the 12 million + people impacted by cancer who are in active treatment, are post treatment survivors dealing with long term and lingering side effects, or who may be at the end of their lives. Let’s make sure, as a society, that they have the care and support they need. Let’s be sure they are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. And, let’s demand that health care be considered a basic human right and not a luxury in the wealthiest, most privileged nation in the world.