(Special to The Root) — Imagine the anxiety suffered by Tee McClenty, a medical technician and mother of a 19-year-old son, when she received a letter in the mail stating that his health care coverage had been dropped because he was no longer a full-time student.
Imagine the distress that Denise Ybarra, a pediatric health care worker, felt when her husband lost his job and they questioned whether their 16-year-old daughter, diagnosed with T-cell leukemia 10 years earlier, would be denied health insurance because of her previous medical condition.
Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, mothers like McClenty and Ybarra don't have to fear for the health of their children. They can look forward to benefits of the law that will extend help to millions more women, children, young adults and seniors if it's upheld by the Supreme Court this month.
As both health care consumers and health care workers, members of Service Employees International Union, the nation's largest union of health care workers, embarked on a journey to help fix the nation's broken health care system. Before the Supreme Court makes its decision, we want all working families to understand the importance of upholding the health care law and the vital nature of protecting health care reforms, now and in the future. This is especially true for African Americans, Latinos and other people of color who represent 33 percent of the U.S. population, make up more than 50 percent of the uninsured and whose access to health care has been historically marred by discrimination.
Regardless of race or ethnicity, however, nearly one in two Americans does not know the facts about how the health care law works or how they can get better care under the health care law. Since the Affordable Care Act went into effect in 2010, millions of families have gained access to quality, affordable health care and the financial security that it brings in tough economic times. By 2014 the health care law will extend coverage to the majority of Americans who are uninsured.
While her insurance agent did not initially understand the new benefits, McClenty had heard about the extended coverage for older children under the health care law. She got her son added back to her policy. Imagine her relief after her son broke his wrist months later and needed a bone graft — the $30,000 bill was covered under the health insurance. Additionally, Ybarra's daughter — like 129 million men, women and children who were at risk of being denied coverage by insurance companies because of a pre-existing health condition — was fully covered.
In addition, the Affordable Care Act expands initiatives to increase racial and ethnic diversity in health care professions (pdf) and strengthens cultural competency training for all health care providers. And it ends the worst insurance company abuses, such as denying coverage because of a pre-existing condition. Access to preventive care could also mean the difference between life and death for 47 million Latinos and 41 million African Americans, who are disproportionately affected by chronic diseases such as diabetes, certain cancers and heart disease, and are more likely than other Americans to die from preventable diseases. With record high unemployment, pathways to care through employer-based insurance could be eliminated.
The reality is this: The Affordable Care Act is already working. Yet a recent CBS News-New York Times poll shows that 67 percent of Republicans and 70 percent of Tea Party supporters want the entire law to be overturned.
We fully expect that the Affordable Care Act will be upheld by the Supreme Court, not only because it's constitutional but also because to do otherwise would impose a massive judicial intervention that would disrupt the lives of millions of individuals and businesses that are already benefiting from the law.
But what would happen to McClenty and Ybarra if the court sided with insurance companies and corporate interests?
There's no evidence that right-wing Republicans in Congress would retain these benefits or help Americans keep any of these benefits. The Republican House budget consistently aims to cut Medicaid for seniors, children and people with disabilities. Instead of introducing proposals that help close gaps between the richest 1 percent and the rest of us, the GOP still tries to shift economic burdens onto working families.
After her son's health care coverage was restored, McClenty said, "I felt like I'd had a small victory … I was so grateful for the new health care law."
Now imagine if there were no Affordable Care Act to help women like McClenty and Ybarra.
Gerry Hudson is the international executive vice president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
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