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At Least You Have Your Health

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"At least you have your health."

The phrase has become cliché and even the object of parody, but there comes a point when we appreciate it in full sincerity. That point, of course, is when we face our own health issues -- even if temporary -- and appreciate how all-consuming a broken bone, pinched nerve, chronic allergy, or persistent migraine can be.

As I've noted here before, health issues impact not only our quality of life in the moment, but also our fiscal health as we try to move on. A recent study found that health care costs contributed to nearly half of all bankruptcies in the country.

So all in all, our health care -- and our health care coverage -- are pretty important. I think most people are in agreement on that.

And yet so many of us know so little about either our health care or our health care coverage. As of last August, four in 10 Americans were unaware that the Affordable Care Act--Obamacare -- was even the law. To echo another parodied line, "Keep your government hands off my Medicare!"

This paradox lies at the heart of much that we do at the National Health Law Program (NHeLP). Our mission is to protect and advance the health rights of low income and underserved individuals. Every day, that involves educating someone -- a local health care advocate, someone seeking medical care, a policymaker -- about how our health care laws work and about the real-world impact of those laws.

It is that mission that has motivated me to discuss health care laws and policy here with you: to give you real information, supported by data, about what is happening with health care in our country. From explaining the ACA's Medicaid Expansion to what is really happening with the "birth control mandate" to diving deep on the idea that emergency rooms provide adequate health coverage for the uninsured, my goal has been to help you know a little more about topics central to your quality of life.

Today, I am writing for a different reason: to say goodbye. This month I step down from my role of Executive Director at NHeLP and into retirement.

A lot has happened since I joined the organization in 2008. Back then, there were 46.3 million uninsured Americans -- a number that would grow with the financial crisis -- including roughly 17 million Americans living below the poverty line who could not get Medicaid coverage because they did not fall into one of the then limited categories of people eligible for it (such as caregivers, children, and people with disabilities).

By any accounting, these numbers are finally trending in the right direction. Last week, the Obama administration announced that more than 8 million people had signed up for health coverage through the health care marketplace notwithstanding the online portal's rough debut. Of those, more than a third are young adults under the age of 35.

That number does not include the estimated 3 million young people who can now stay on their parents' insurance plans until the age of 26 or the 3 million more who are newly eligible for Medicaid and signed up for it. While the final accounting of how many of these people were previously uninsured is not yet complete, a Gallup poll earlier this month found that the uninsured rate among Americans is the lowest that it has been since 2008.

We can thank the Affordable Care Act for these numbers. The landmark law is far and away the most important health care policy change we have seen since NHeLP was founded more than 40 years ago. I am proud to have been here to witness its passage and the Supreme Court decision upholding it, and I continue to believe in its promise.

Of course, there is still much to be done. Twenty-one states have refused to expand Medicaid to all living in poverty--a shameful prioritizing of politics over people -- leaving an estimated 5 million without insurance. We are still waiting to learn the outcome of the Hobby Lobby cases. And there are still hard conversations we need to have in this country about escalating health care costs.

Happily, my replacement is more than up to the task. Elizabeth Taylor is joining NHeLP from the Department of Justice, where her portfolio included -- you guessed it -- defending and implementing the ACA. You will be hearing from her in time.

As for me, I wish you all good health and happiness.