This week, we celebrate five years of progress since the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare or the ACA, was signed into law.
Beyond the headlines and politics, the law is changing America. Every day, we are moving closer to a country where we choose to take care of those who are sick no matter who they are. Where we choose to care for people like David.
I only knew David for a few days. But I feel like we've been on a journey together since the day he died.
David was my patient eight years ago. He had Crohn's disease that was controlled with medicine and close medical care, until he lost his health insurance. When he got sick, he was scared, but he was barely making ends meet and couldn't afford to see a doctor. No health insurance company would offer him coverage. He tried taking vitamins and Ensure, and he kept working. One day he was so weak and dizzy that he couldn't get from his bedroom to the bathroom. He finally came to the ER. We tried so hard to save him, but it was too late. Within days, David's organs failed, and he died in the intensive care unit with his family at his bedside.
I felt overwhelmed with guilt and a sense of failure. David died because of his disease, but we chose to let him die long before he got to the hospital. Society decided his life and the lives of too many other Davids didn't matter. As a doctor, like so many other doctors over the past few years, I decided that being silent was no longer an option.
Five years ago, America gained a new law that sought to change the fate of people like David. The law happened because millions of people chose to speak up and demand that we do better -- doctors, nurses, moms, dads, young people, faith leaders, business owners, ordinary citizens choosing the future we wanted for the country.
Making the law a reality has meant a lot of hard work from millions of people. Around kitchen tables, families have poured over their new health options and picked what's best for them. In hospitals and clinics, doctors, nurses and administrators have worked overtime to meet new goals in quality and efficiency while taking care of millions of new patients.
Today, 16.4 million more people have health insurance. Hospitals and patients working together have prevented 150,000 readmissions to hospitals. Individuals and taxpayers have saved billions of dollars. These numbers are hard to grasp until you think about what it all really means.
Jill in North Carolina suffered with a life-changing heart arrhythmia for four years until the ACA got her covered. Within two weeks, she had a procedure that got her back on her feet and back to living her life. She told us her story so others like her could get care, too.
Mike in California didn't know why he couldn't breathe until he got covered. Within days of coming to the hospital, we had his newly diagnosed heart failure under control so he could get back to working as a photographer and DJ. He eagerly asked me how he could help other people get covered, too.
Doctors across the country have newly insured patients coming into their clinics. They tell me how relieved their patients are that they can finally get a check up and finally have a doctor to call when they are sick and worried. These doctors fought for the law to pass and are now working hard to make it better.
Which version of America matches the land of opportunity where everyone has inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? David's tragic fate? Or people living their lives with the security of knowing that help is a phone call away?
Five years in, we have made a lot of progress. Today, it's time for elected leaders in 22 states to choose to expand Medicaid coverage to 5 million people stuck in the coverage gap. It's time for more doctors to get involved in working with our elected officials and the public to make health care available to everyone.
It's time for the country to put patients over politics and agree that the health of every American should be a priority for all of us.