02/23/2015 04:32 pm ET Updated Apr 24, 2015

King v. Burwell: Public Health's 21st Century Call to Action

In the 1960s, health reformers mobilized to advocate for medical coverage for senior citizens. Physician advocates and public health groups among others came together to make Medicare part of the Social Security Act. In 1965, Medicare was signed into law, representing a huge victory for reformers and grassroots movements in healthcare reform.

Almost 20 years later, during the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, patients and the healthcare community created a powerful advocacy movement to demand equitable primary care services for persons living with HIV and AIDS. Spurred on by their belief that no individual should be denied access to life-saving care, activists eventually achieved a significant victory with the passage of the Ryan White Care Act in 1990.

Both movements share a valuable narrative: the power in grassroots activism to inspire critical change in our healthcare system, and for those activists to come from the medical and public health community. These movements defined a space outside hospitals, clinics and research facilities for health professionals to advocate for their patients. Moreover, it reinforced the exceptional trust we place in the medical profession to provide congruent care beyond hospital and exam room walls.

This is the beautiful, matchless quality that characterizes our healthcare community. Providers and advocates care for people and work to preserve health because it is a passion and not just a profession. Today, the King v. Burwell Supreme Court case is another pivotal moment that not only threatens to unravel our healthcare system, but also threatens life-saving care for millions of patients. It is the reason why healthcare professionals and advocates are called to action again, much like in the Medicare and AIDS stories, to elevate their voice and continue protecting their patients.

The King v. Burwell case is that opportunity to advocate for the accessible, affordable and quality healthcare that everyone deserves. On March 4, 2015, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case that attempts to strip premium tax credits that make healthcare affordable in 34 federal health exchange marketplaces--that is up to 9 million individuals who would lose health insurance, and more than 9,800 preventable deaths per year. As a public health student, training to promote and preserve the health of our nation, I am acutely aware of how affordable health insurance enables so many individuals to receive necessary preventive care and timely treatment they would otherwise not have. Coverage is good medicine. The healthcare community knows this better than anyone and it is a necessary responsibility to advocate for patients when health and wellbeing is threatened.

Working toward a more equitable, just society takes time and is challenging, but some of the most unprecedented progress has been made in grassroots movements. The action that brought about Medicare and the Ryan White Act were powered by empathy and catalyzed by a vision that every individual should be able to reach their fullest potential. The healthcare community has immeasurable power to organize for the sake of millions of patients who stand to lose from a ruling for the plaintiff in King v. Burwell.

This is an optimal advocacy moment--to speak up for those individuals, for whom affordable health insurance is making all the difference. As physicians, public health professionals and caregivers, our motive to care must extend beyond clinics and into boardrooms, senate offices and even the steps of the United States Supreme Court. This is where I will be on March 4, 2015, alongside hundreds of healthcare professionals who believe so strongly that coverage is good medicine.