11/23/2011 11:09 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2012

Giving Thanks for Health Care Reform

This Thanksgiving it is worth taking a moment to be grateful for something nearly 50 million Americans live without: health care. That staggering figure obscures the human face of our national dilemma: what do we do about the young mother with a breast tumor bursting through her skin, a man whose pain became so unbearable he tried to remove his own infected tooth with a pair of pliers, or the 52-year-old housekeeper who waited five years for eyeglasses because she couldn't afford them?

These are just a sample of the thousands of Californians who received treatment at a massive free health clinic held last month in Los Angeles organized and produced by CareNow, a national nonprofit founded by Don Manelli last year to bring quality, sustainable health care to underserved and vulnerable populations across our country. The clinic was sponsored in part by The California Endowment. What Don and I can both agree on is that 'Health Happens with Prevention' and that ALL Americans should and must have access to affordable, prevention-based care.

Another champion for community health issues who also recognizes the importance of prevention is my good friend, Dr. Mehmet Oz.

Today a very special episode of "The Dr. Oz Show," will feature the LA CareNow clinic event that we are hoping everyone will tune into.

On the program today, all Americans will have the opportunity to see what many of our fellow Californians go through to get the services so many of us take for granted. More than 3,700 people were treated at this year's event, the nation's largest, held at the Los Angeles Sports Arena. Just as impressive was the outpouring of community support and monumental turnout of volunteers: more than 3,000 medical and dental professionals, students, community leaders stood alongside everyday Californians who took advantage of their power to step up and make a difference in the state with the highest number of uninsured.

What we saw at CareNow is true for most Americans who don't have access to affordable care. Of the more than 7,000 medical, dental and vision procedures performed at the clinic, the vast majority were preventable. This is why it was so important that while patients waited to see specialists, they were able to take advantage of a wide range of educational and counseling services including smoking cessation programs, information on nutrition, exercise, mental health and stress reduction. Free mammograms, Pap smears, and bone density tests were offered, along with immunizations. Through the California Endowment's WE Connect program, individuals and families were able to use an online tool called the WEbConnector to find out which state services and programs they qualify for. Volunteers were available to help them enroll on the spot into Healthy Families and Medi-Cal and other services such as CalFresh, which provides access to healthy and nutritious foods for low-income families. And patients did not leave without a referral to the nearest treating facility or specialist for free follow-up care.
The goal was all about connecting our most vulnerable populations with the resources available to them to lead healthier lives, which goes to the core of the mission of both The California Endowment and CareNow.

It's not just those treated who benefit from the preventative approach. It benefits our entire society. When people receive preventative care they are less likely to need emergency rooms or miss work and school. A healthier community is better for everybody.

It might be tempting to look at the thousands of people under the roof of a sports arena to receive health care as a snapshot of what is wrong with America. As a wealthy nation, there is simply no excuse for this level of untreated need. And we realize that as impressive as CareNow/LA was in scope and sophistication, we were only able to touch a fraction of the 2.2 million uninsured people in Los Angeles County. But when you step back from the policy level, we see something that legislators rarely do. When health care is reduced to the level of the individual, to the person standing before you, there are no pros and cons. Health care is a right. This is why we are adding health care reform to our list of things we are grateful for this year.

The Affordable Care Act aims to address the core issues that drive families to depend on events like the CareNow clinics and hospital emergency rooms. The new health law is set to provide affordable care to most Americans and it is already beginning to make a positive impact today, from tax credits for small businesses to make providing coverage to their employees more affordable to funding the Low Income Health Program to expand access to care. For example, Healthy Way LA is making it possible for individuals and families to have high quality medical care. The new health law is making prevention a priority and giving families real hope for a healthier future. And for that, we are truly grateful.