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Health Reform: The Facts Matter

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It's been six months since Congress passed health care reform, and the law has become a divisive political issue as midterm elections loom. This early anniversary is an opportunity to consider how the most historic domestic legislation passed since Medicare and Medicaid is helping families in practical ways that serve the common good.

As a Catholic sister and president of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, my commitment to health care reform is rooted in the unwavering belief that providing quality medical care for all is a moral priority and a fundamental tenet of a just society. Our sisters know from experience working in hospitals and clinics the profound stresses that come with sickness. Families battle with insurance companies as loved ones suffer. Time away from work puts jobs at risk. Medical bills pile up as hope fades. This is why so many Catholic sisters support health care reform. We put politics aside and respond when people are in need.

While this law will not cure the many issues at stake in a complicated health care system, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has already achieved significant victories. Starting this week, insurance companies can no longer deny coverage to children with pre-existing conditions. This means that children with cancer or other acute diseases won't be cut off from getting the care they need. The law also prohibits all health plans from placing lifetime caps on coverage. Young adults who need coverage can now remain on their parents' insurance until they are 26, which is especially important as young people face the most difficult job market in decades. Uninsured adults who could not get coverage because of a pre-existing condition now have access to temporary high-risk pools until permanent health care exchanges are established. In addition, new health plans must cover preventive services such as blood pressure checkups, cholesterol tests and routine vaccinations. No longer will patients be charged a copayment or deductible for these services -- an important victory for consumers since heart disease, diabetes and other chronic illnesses are often preventable, and research shows consumers avoid preventative care when it's not covered.

The law also goes a long way to help mothers by establishing a Pregnancy Assistance Fund that will provide $250 million over the next decade to help pregnant and parenting women and teens with child care, housing, education and services for those victimized by domestic or sexual violence. This vital network of comprehensive support is especially critical for women who lack the resources to raise a healthy child and may view abortion as their only option in difficult situations. These robust supports are more than just sound bites in campaign speeches. These funds will make sure struggling women and families have access to baby food, post-partum counseling and parenting classes.

An honest dialogue over health care reform should be encouraged. People of goodwill can disagree in spirited, civil ways. But the facts matter and we should not let partisanship or ideology drown out the voices of those with real needs. Let's celebrate the tremendous achievements of this important law and work together to keep building a health care system that lives up to our nation's highest values.

Sister Mary Waskowiak, RSM, is president of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas.