After the win by President Obama last Tuesday, I saw the health reform law -- also known as Obamacare -- in the same way that I viewed justice warriors like Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., and Cesar Chavez after they were jailed for their beliefs. Obamacare is now a freed political prisoner.
Now that the presidential campaign is over, let us remind ourselves of the benefits of Obamacare:
- More than 30 million Americans without health insurance will be able to secure health coverage -- some through the expanded Medicaid program (Medi-Cal) and for others the state exchanges will provide access to affordable plans;
- No longer will people with pre-existing health conditions-like diabetes, high blood pressure or cancer, be refused or dropped by health insurance companies;
- Many preventive health services, like mammograms and some cancer screenings, are now included in health insurance plans without a co-payment;
- Communities are receiving funds to institute wellness practices and programs;
- States have the ability to innovate to reduce the costs of health care; and,
- States have the ability to create new health care jobs that focus on primary care and prevention.
Political experts observed that Latino voters played a powerful role in the elections, and the issues of immigration and immigration reform are obviously important. But having served and interacted with Latino communities as a physician and public health official over the years, I also know how critically important the issue of affordable health care is to Latino families. My professional experience has taught me, and polls and surveys have confirmed, that Latinos are more likely than other demographic group to strongly view health care as a right, rather than a privilege.
In addition to much of the anti-immigration rhetoric in the presidential campaign, I suspect that many Latinos were also turned off by the negative and unfair campaigning against Obamacare. There was so much character assassination about the new health law over the past year that its true benefits have been obscured and mischaracterized. Two years after the law was passed, and six months after the Supreme Court affirmed its legality, only now do we have the opportunity to explain the benefits of Obamacare to families, workers, and employees -- without the noise, distraction, and confusion of a political campaign getting in the way.
Here in California we have not skipped a beat and lead the nation in advancing Obamacare. But along with the nation, our state has much work to do to begin the process of fixing our broken health system. We must educate and re-educate Californians, especially Latinos, about the benefits of Obamacare. We need to establish partnerships with civic leaders and community organizations to help people understand how the law will impact them and how to best comply with the law -- for many this will mean enrolling in new health care coverage before Jan. 1, 2014. We need to take advantage of new federal resources to help train and hire more physicians, nurses, and community health workers. We need to create partnerships with health organizations to better coordinate health care and prevention in persons with asthma, diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. We need to enroll the more than four million Californians without health insurance who can benefit from the new law.
Let us not forget that we need to continue to explore ways of finding affordable health care for people who do not qualify for Obamacare, like the undocumented. These individuals work and contribute to our communities and our work is not complete until the dignity of health care becomes a reality for them as well.
Obamacare, you are now free. Welcome home.
First printed for La Opinion on Nov. 13, 2012.