Obamacare at Five

03/23/2015 11:38 am ET | Updated May 23, 2015

In the five years since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) became law, we've seen more progress in expanding health care to millions than in the last four decades combined. The ACA has translated into real reform and real changes that help real people. An incredible 16.4 million have gained coverage through the ACA, and those gains are only the beginning. With so much progress made, so much remains at stake.

The ACA has made a real dent in un-insurance. Among the 47 million uninsured before the ACA, nearly one in seven Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders (AAs and NHPIs) were uninsured. My organization, the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum (APIAHF), worked with a national coalition of more than 70 organizations dedicated to ensuring that AAs and NHPIs realize the benefits of the health law. Called Action for Health Justice (AHJ), the coalition has worked in 22 states and in 41 languages to provide health insurance education and enrollment assistance to over 600,000 people during the last two open enrollment periods. During the 2014-2015 enrollment period, we heard from people on the ground about how swamped the navigators, community health centers and assisters were. So many people in their communities wanted health coverage, but needed help with the process. This immense interest in such a short time period speaks to just how critical the ACA is in closing the coverage gap in minority communities.

Expanding coverage is key to combatting health and health care disparities. AAs and NHPIs face disproportionally high rates of chronic diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, obesity and cancer. Many of these challenges stem from lack of access to health insurance and appropriate health care. The ACA's coverage expansion is the first step in combatting these disparities by getting people covered and helping them connect to care. Thanks to the ACA, millions of AAs and NHPIs now have access to critical cancer screenings, preventive health care services, such as birth control and diabetes screenings and much more.

The ACA is already saving lives. We have heard from people all over the country whose lives have been changed by the ACA. People like Pastor Hyun, who would never have been able to afford coverage without the law's financial help. He went uninsured for years on his small clergy salary, choosing to pay for rent and food over health insurance premiums. Right after Hyun enrolled in ACA coverage, he had a severe heart attack, from which he is still recovering today. The ACA quite literally saved his life.

Health insurance has also saved Jian Z.'s life. She was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer in 2010 and completed treatment with the health insurance available through her job. However, she couldn't afford health insurance after she was laid off and couldn't afford to finish her cancer treatment. Thanks to the ACA, Jian was able to get coverage for a mere $19 a month. She is now completing treatment, and is looking forward to living cancer-free.

Much of this progress is at stake. The King v. Burwell case pending before the Supreme Court could upend health insurance and leave more than 8.2 million people without coverage. The case focuses on whether Americans in every state can receive tax credits, or just people living in states that set up their own health insurance marketplace. Supporters, including my organization, argue the tax credits are available in every state. The opposition argues the opposite. Hanging in the balance is the ability to access affordable coverage for millions.

But it's not just about the sheer numbers who would be impacted. It's about real people like Sione, who would lose his insurance if the Court makes a bad decision. Sione, a Tongan man living in Utah, had to skip his diabetes medication because he couldn't afford them. But now, because he qualified for tax credits, he is able to afford both health coverage and the cost of the medication. Losing his tax credits means losing the ability to afford his medication and losing control over his health.

This country has made incredible gains in the last five years and we can't stand to lose now. The health and livelihood of millions of Americans hangs in the balance.