THE BLOG
10/14/2013 10:05 am ET Updated Dec 14, 2013

Americans Must Be Able to Obtain Health Care Coverage As Is Their Right Under the Law

In the 1930's, Democrats created Social Security over the vocal opposition of Republicans. Today the program is an enduring legacy. It is recognized as the politically untouchable third rail of politics that provides for millions of Americans. In the 1960's, Democrats created Medicare over the vocal opposition of Republicans. Today, it's wildly popular among both older Americans and the medical community that treats them. See a pattern? It is likely to continue.

Democrats created the Affordable Care Act. Republican opposition has made the fights about Social Security and Medicare look like a walk in the park. While it's far too soon to say this program will prove as popular as the others, what is almost criminal is how opponents of the law are essentially denying Americans their now constitutionally guaranteed rights.

In their contempt for the law, too many state governments have made it next to impossible for their citizens to obtain coverage while at the same time almost ridiculing those who want to sign up. On Saturday at a rally in New Jersey, according to The New York Times, Sarah Palin rejected the notion that people should accept the Affordable Care Act though it was passed by Congress, signed into law by the President and upheld by the Supreme Court. Of course, Palin undoubtedly has fine health care coverage for herself yet she chooses to, in essence, criticize those who want to do the same for themselves and their families.

This is a tragedy. Opponents of the law are now so reckless in their hatred that they have shut down the government and threaten the stability and reputation of America not just at home but internationally as well.

While this is going on, ordinary people simply want to ensure they have affordable health coverage that previously they were unable to obtain. So while the opponents scream, let's take a look on the local level at the practical impact of the law in its first few weeks of implementation. In my city, about 55,000 residents -- nearly 20 percent of the Jersey City population -- currently have no health insurance. With the launch of the Affordable Care Act Marketplace, we had the responsibility to inform residents of their options are and how to apply. That is why the City developed a robust and proactive plan to assist residents in answering their questions and applying online.

The City partnered on a federally-funded mobile Navigator Program through a $400,000 grant that hired four bilingual counselors to visit businesses, community groups, and local non-profits to enroll residents. Only six federal grants were allocated in New Jersey, and Jersey City is the only municipality with a bilingual, mobile model. Additionally, the Department of Health and Human Services has 10 certified application counselors, many of whom are bilingual, to help residents understand their health coverage options and enroll them.

If it is possible to see the demand and need in a mid-size American city, imagine the broader results if each community in the United States undertook to ensure its citizens were aggressively advised of their rights under the law.

With history as a guide, not only will Americans be healthier because of their new right, so will the economy despite the outrageous claims made by opponents. Social Security and Medicare have benefitted not just older Americans but the economy at large as well. It is likely over the next few years and then for generations to come the Affordable Care Act will achieve similar results.

Steve Fulop is the Mayor of Jersey City, NJ.

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