For too long, families and small businesses across the country watched helplessly as the cost of health insurance skyrocketed, making it harder to make ends meet. Insurance companies denied coverage to people who needed care, while many Americans lived one illness or one accident away from bankruptcy. As more and more people struggled to afford health insurance, particularly in minority communities, it became clear that Congress needed to take steps to address the rising costs of insurance and make health care more accessible for the American people.
The Affordable Care Act will make a huge difference in the lives of Hispanic families. Prior to passage of the law, disparities in access to health care as well as the quality of care continued to worsen, leaving the emergency room as the only source of care for too many people. Passed by a Democratic Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama, the Affordable Care Act gives millions of families across the country the peace of mind that when they need it most, they will have affordable health insurance and guaranteed coverage. Under the law, it will be easier to obtain quality care, which is critical to the 50 percent of Hispanics who do not have a regular doctor and the third of Hispanics who are uninsured.
Millions of Americans and small businesses will have access to health care next year when a new competitive private health insurance market will come on line. At the same time, new tax credits will be provided to help middle-class families and small businesses afford health insurance, while many states will expand Medicaid to ensure more low-income families have access to care.
The Affordable Care Act is also putting control back in the hands of the American people, not insurance companies. The insurance industry will be more transparent with guarantees that more of your premiums will be used to cover care, not expensive overhead or administrative costs. Already, the new law prevents insurance companies from denying care to children just because of a pre-existing condition such as diabetes or asthma, and this benefit will soon extend to all Americans. Free preventive services will help people stay healthy and address issues before they become more harmful and costly.
Thanks to health care reform, women will not have to worry that becoming pregnant, having breast cancer, or being a victim of domestic violence will be called a pre-existing condition used to deny coverage or justify higher costs. With women currently paying up to 48 percent more in premiums than men on the individual market, the Affordable Care Act ensures that this practice of gender rating will end and women will pay the same price as men.
Some of the positive impacts of the law are already being felt across the country. More than 100 million Americans have received free preventive services. More than 6 million young adults have been able to stay on their parents’ health plan. And 360,000 small businesses have received a tax credit to help them insure 2 million workers.
The numbers are staggering, but it’s the individual stories that illustrate just what this law means. Yvonne, from my state of New Mexico, lost her job when the company she worked for shipped it overseas. As a diabetic, private insurance companies would not insure her, so after becoming gravely ill and having to go to the emergency room where another problem was found, she had to wait two months to be seen at a hospital. When she finally was able to see the doctor, she was diagnosed with a form of lung cancer that would have been caught earlier if she had insurance. Yvonne passed away from complications resulting from the cancer after suffering through a system that discriminated against her for having a pre-existing condition.
It’s Yvonne’s story and the stories of so many like her that moved Congress and the President to action, to pass the Affordable Care Act, and to make sure that affordable health care is a right, not a privilege.