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Irwin Redlener, M.D.

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For America's Families: ACA Just What the Doctor Ordered

Posted: 07/02/2012 2:07 pm

Although it's hard to believe, it wasn't just politicians and pundits of every conceivable stripe who waited with excited anticipation for the Supreme Court to announce its ruling on the Affordable Care Act. Just imagine what was at stake for ordinary citizens and families across the country.

Children in particular are already seeing important benefits from the new legislation -- with much more to come in the next few years. And you can be sure that kids and their families are not talking about the Accountable Care Organizations or the legal impact of the health reform on tax law.

The things that affect the well-being and financial security of families, the true impact of this enormous accomplishment are far more basic -- and life-changing -- than the wonky details of legislative implementation.

For families this is all about finally getting health insurance coverage for a child with a chronic illness or congenital problem who had been denied coverage for years, saddling already strapped families with medical bills that could never be paid.

It's about never again having to worry that whatever coverage they may have had will reach some arbitrary limit, putting sky high medical bills on the horizon for years to come.

It's about a new health center coming to their community where simply finding a clinic or doctor's office has been a major challenge.

It's about programs to encourage and provide incentives for doctors to practice in communities that have been experiencing serious shortages of medical professionals.

Everyone recognizes that the Affordable Care Act doesn't satisfy everyone -- not that any single piece of legislation ever could. The most conservative of us may have preferred the law being struck down by the Supreme Court and many progressives think that ACA doesn't go far enough. After all, it is estimated that only 31 million of the 50 million uninsured Americans will get covered under the Act.

There is, in fact, merit to appreciating what the ACA has left undone. Clearly, there is substantial moral weight behind the case that everybody should have health insurance and access to quality, timely health care. We can only hope that this unfinished business will be addressed sooner rather than later.

In the meantime, let's recognize Obama's health care legislation for the landmark accomplishment that it is. After decades of started and stalled attempts to create a more equitable system of care -- under Democratic and Republican administrations -- the impossible was achieved. ACA is a giant step forward.

And if you don't agree with that, try asking a family who doesn't have health insurance and can't afford medical care for a sick child what it feels like to be stuck with crushing bills and the heartache of not being able to provide the best for those who are most precious to you.

Of course the high drama of health care policy, the weighing in of the Supreme Court and the highly charged political season create an environment tailor-made for the 24-hour news cycle. But where it really matters is in the communities and at the kitchen tables where parents worry about things like paying the bills, getting to a decent school and making sure medical care is accessible and affordable.

Underneath the nearly 200 pages of legal rhetoric issued by the Roberts court, and the incessant bantering by politicians and talking heads, lies a simple understanding: America's health care system was failing millions of families and was long overdue for a makeover. The ACA is just what the doctor ordered.

Irwin Redlener, MD is president of Children's Health Fund and Professor of Clinical Population and Family Health, Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University

 

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