11/15/2011 02:12 pm ET | Updated Jan 15, 2012

Health Above Wealth

Last week, another federal appeals court upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, marking the second time a federal appeals court ruled in favor of the law. The case is now scheduled to be heard by the Supreme Court. And while much ado has been made about this law, I can tell you that it means the difference between life and death for millions who are currently sick, but unable to afford care. By upholding this law, we are one step closer to ensuring all Americans, including those in poverty, can become and stay healthy.

In Illinois alone, the new law gives more than 1.7 million uninsured individuals access to affordable health insurance, starting in 2014. Of those, more than 700,000 low income adults will be eligible for Medicaid, including those with chronic illnesses. For some, it will be the first time they will have the security of being able to see a doctor when needed or fill a prescription to keep them healthy without being plunged even further into the depths of poverty.

And while poverty and health may seem like two separate issues, here at Heartland Alliance, Illinois' largest anti-poverty organization, we understand that they're inextricably linked. After all, without a job you can't afford health care, and without health care, many are too sick to get a job. It's the worst kind of catch 22 -- the kind that leaves millions each year in dire straits.

Social service agencies like Heartland Alliance and many more across Illinois are invaluable partners in figuring out how we can shape this new law to create a health care system that meets the needs of everyone, especially those who live in poverty. That's because a lot of the care we can provide is coordinated and centered on the patient's situation and needs.

For someone who is both sick and in poverty, physical illness is often only one thing that ails them. They may be homeless, have children they can't afford to feed, or lack the resources or education it takes to manage a disease. All of these factors can negatively impact the health of the individual while keeping them in poverty.

Addressing the entirety of an individual's needs is the only way we can ensure all Illinoisans can live a healthy and stable life. Because without the security of a safe place to live, food on the table, and the know-how of managing an illness, those who live in poverty and are sick will remain so.

For too long, the health care discussion was dominated by discussions of costs and a business model that rewarded refusing coverage or care. Now we have the opportunity to undo this and create a system that is affordable and effective for all. Let's hope the Supreme Court agrees.