10/07/2013 11:06 am ET Updated Dec 07, 2013

The Affordable Care Act: Our Leaders Must Put Our Health First and Stop the Madness

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), commonly known as "Obamacare," is a federal law expanding and improving access to health care for millions of U.S. citizens. The ACA is especially important for low-income workers and people in communities of color, both of whom have historically had the least access to quality health care.

There has been much public confusion about the ACA, caused in part by the ongoing acrimonious political debate over it. Even now, with health coverage enrollment in the initial stage, the controversy and hostility continue, serving only to create obstacles and roadblocks that are a grave disservice to the American people.

This is no way to run a government. Under the ACA, millions of previously underinsured or uninsured people will finally have access to health care that they desperately need. At a time when we have an opportunity to save lives and make a difference to so many, we are being held hostage by those we elected to serve the public interest.

It's time for real, effective leadership at every level of government. It's time for our leaders to break through the divisiveness that impedes progress and jeopardizes our rights and privileges as citizens. Now is the time for our leaders to be decisive, to step up and stand up for the rights of all Americans.

Despite the challenges and attempts to derail it, the ACA is presently in effect, and we need to ensure that people have the information they need to take advantage of the important benefits that are currently available to them.

As the president of the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, I am keenly aware of the critical impact the ACA will have people on living with and affected by HIV/AIDS. I spoke in July with Carine Jocelyn, Executive Director of Diaspora Care Services of Brooklyn, NY, on Health Action Radio, NBLCA's radio series on WWRL 1600 AM. Ms. Jocelyn talked about how much people living with HIV/AIDS will benefit from the ACA--since people with HIV/AIDS are living longer, when they reach age 50, 55, and 65, they begin to develop other chronic illnesses that are prevalent among the older population, including high blood pressure, diabetes, and mental health issues. The ACA will expand health insurance coverage for many people living with HIV/AIDS by making coverage available to people with pre-existing medical conditions.

Another marvelous aspect of the ACA is that preventative testing and primary care, such as annual physicals, mammograms, gynecological exams, and colonoscopies, will be free for those covered under the Act. For many of us in communities of color, the emergency room has often been our point of entry into the health care system. The ACA will make is possible for millions of citizens to access care through physician's office visits.

People who do not have health insurance through their employer and must buy it on their own can get help from the state in which they live through state health insurance exchanges. Enrollment in health exchanges began on October 1. The Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) has up-to-date information on state insurance marketplaces (exchanges) available online.

Also, according to the KFF, "states have the option of expanding Medicaid eligibility to 138% of the federal poverty level (about $16,000 for a single person and $32,500 for a family of four in 2014) in order to receive federal funds under the Affordable Care Act. You can see if your state has decided to expand Medicaid by checking this chart." For more information about the Affordable Care Act, look at the KFF's answers to frequently asked questions about health reform.

Unfortunately, at the present time, undocumented workers and their families will not be covered. This means that while the ACA will save money through preventative vs. acute care for many people, undocumented immigrants will still have to access care through emergency rooms, which is more expensive than preventative care and treatment. The state of California is discussing including undocumented individuals and families in its state health exchange. This is a step in the right direction.

All people in this country deserve the respect and dignity of access to affordable and quality health care. We must demand that the government officials whom we elected to serve us make our health and well-being their top priority. The madness needs to stop, now. Too many lives are at stake.