A wave of new data and survey results released last week makes clear that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is doing exactly what it was intended to do: provide reasonable, affordable healthcare coverage to millions of previously uninsured Americans. Despite initial setbacks that hindered the launch of Healthcare.gov, millions of Americans flocked to the ACA marketplaces during the open enrollment period from last October to this April.
Three major surveys released last week show this clearly. The Commonwealth Fund estimated that the ACA reduced the number of uninsured adults by a staggering 9.5 million since last summer. The Urban Institute in its report did not go nearly as far, but found 8 million fewer struggling to find healthcare security. To go with these numbers, Gallup found the American uninsured rate dropped from 18 percent last year to just 13.4 percent in the second quarter of 2014.
These numbers are further evidence that the ACA is not only a law worth keeping, but a law worth celebrating. Whether it’s the 24-year-old graduate student who can stay on her parent’s health plan and avoid further debt; the single-mother with breast cancer who saw her monthly premiums slashed in half; or the low wage worker who was finally able to secure a policy after years of being turned down due to a pre-existing condition, this law has touched Americans from every walk of life.
Despite these staggering accomplishments, the ACA certainly has not been without its ideologically driven critics. A Brookings Institution study reports that over $450 million has been spent throughout the country on advertising against the law. Ironically, that study finds a positive correlation between states with high levels of enrollment and states with high spending on attack ads. That’s because access to affordable health care is common sense – once it became accessible and people started talking about it, it was only a matter of time before the uninsured would take advantage of the ACA.
But that’s not to say the fight is over. The Commonwealth Fund study found that the law has been doing wonders for impoverished Americans in states that expanded Medicaid – they saw their uninsured rate fall from 28 percent to 17 percent. However, in states that elected not to expand Medicaid, Virginia among them, the uninsured rate for Americans in poverty remained relatively flat.
The federal government has built the foundation that many states are now standing on. It’s now up to the 24 states that haven’t opted into Medicaid expansion to do what is right for their neediest citizens and work toward full implementation.
There is still work to be done, and there always will be so long as mothers are choosing between ER trips for their kids and rent payments, but let’s take a moment to acknowledge the incredible successes of the first year in the new marketplace. Millions are enjoying the healthcare security we all deserve, no one should be forced to prioritize urgently needed medical care.