By Joanne Conroy, MD
Wow. I can’t believe we actually accomplished this. I think we all have forgotten the reasons we started down this path; they need repeating. We wanted to ensure access to health care for all Americans: Medical expenses for the underinsured had become a major driver of middle-class poverty, resulting in the sale of family assets, which impeded the creation of household income. Health care reform liberates these resources to invest in other basic needs, such as nutrition and education, ultimately improving standard of living. We also made a commitment to decrease health care costs, which would allow American industry to be more competitive in the global economic marketplace.
We have repeatedly tiptoed to the line and backed away from offering universal access to health care. This time we actually stepped over it; good sense has prevailed in spite of escalating political partisanship and real national financial exigencies.
What makes me proud is that we didn’t abandon the most vulnerable of our citizens, who lack political voice and economic clout. These underinsured Americans, many on the brink of personal financial insolvency, are our neighbors, co-workers, and friends.
In a recent meeting at the Association of American Medical Colleges, 50 percent of the audience indicated that they had a family member or friend who was uninsured; 30 percent said that family member or friend also had the burden of chronic disease.
I have several friends who are currently unemployed. One lives in Massachusetts and has Commonwealth Care. She feels like having health insurance has removed both an emotional and a financial burden. Another friend lives in New Jersey. She and her husband have two children and they have no insurance. He is contractor who is struggling financially and she is a stay-at-home mom. They are one paycheck away from insolvency. She has no safety net. But she will.
The battles are not over, and in many ways the ongoing debate sharpens the focus and improves the product.
I would have said two years ago that health care reform truly was a bipartisan issue, although the parties might disagree about how to accomplish it. Unfortunately, the debate was contaminated by partisan politics. I can only hope that reasonable minds decide to collaborate to make the ACA work; we can always improve on the product. We have yet to really make it an effective solution for small employers, and we still have deliver on our promise to use these reforms to decrease health care costs so we can reduce the national deficit.
I suspect that there will be another initiative to undermine the ACA; however, I hope we have the political leadership and moral fiber to persevere.
Success would be measured by the absence of front-page partisan sniping about health care. I would even take celebutante antics and reality shows as a welcome summer respite!
—Joanne Conroy, MD, is Chief Health Care Officer at the Association of American Medical Colleges. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @joanneconroymd