Commentary

To build a better America, ensure everyone who needs health care can get it | Opinion

Americans should have access to the care they need no matter where they live, what they look like or how much they make

(Getty Images/Colorado Newsline)

By Laura Packard

Five years ago, I walked into a doctor’s office with a nagging cough and walked out with a stage 4 cancer diagnosis. The human response to that news is “how can I survive this?” But for too many Americans the question is “how can I pay for this?”

I was lucky. As a small business owner my insurance has been through the Affordable Care Act since 2014 — as soon as I could sign up. Before that time, I had junk insurance. If I still had junk insurance when my cancer was diagnosed, there’s no doubt in my mind that today I would be bankrupt or dead.

I’m doubly fortunate to have been able to afford my ACA health insurance policy — even though I did not qualify for financial help.

Too many of us are priced out of insurance, so one year ago Democrats in Congress passed the American Rescue Plan to make health plans more affordable than ever. Millions of Americans have gained coverage that they could not otherwise have been able to buy, and countless Americans are joining the ranks of cancer survivors like me. But time is running out to renew that financial help.

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In President Joe Biden’s State of the Union speech, he laid out a new Building a Better America plan, to rebuild our domestic infrastructure and caring economy. He will cut the cost of prescription drugs, specifically insulin. He proposed to do this by enabling Medicare to negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs, like the VA already does.

Biden called for extending health insurance subsidies so that more Americans can continue to afford health care: “The American Rescue Plan is helping millions of families on Affordable Care Act plans save $2,400 a year on their health care premiums. Let’s close the coverage gap and make these savings permanent.”

He also called for closing the Medicaid coverage gap. Working Americans priced out of health insurance in states that refused to expand Medicaid would then be able to afford care.

The clock is ticking and we need to move beyond words.

Biden asked Congress to secure health care for American veterans exposed to toxins during their service, including the poisons that spewed from burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan: “I am also calling on Congress to pass a law to make sure veterans devastated by toxic exposures in Iraq and Afghanistan finally get benefits and comprehensive health care they deserve.”

The House has now passed this bipartisan bill, and it moves on to the Senate.

He called for protecting access to health care, including reproductive health care and a woman’s right to choose an abortion. He also put forth a new vision to address our national mental health crisis, including increased funding and insurance coverage parity between health care for your mind and body.

And finally, Biden renewed his strategy for a Cancer Moonshot: “Let’s end cancer as we know it … Our goal is to cut the cancer death rate by at least 50 percent over the next 25 years, and I think we can do better than that, turn more cancers from death sentences into treatable diseases.”

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To me, building a better America means living in a country where everyone who needs health care can get it — regardless of where they live, what they look like, or how much they make. We need to start by renewing the health insurance tax subsidies for workers at small businesses, for the self-employed, for people who do not get health insurance through their jobs and many more.

We must expand health insurance through Medicaid to millions of working class Americans in states like Florida, Georgia, and Texas where conservative Republican legislators refuse to act. We will lower the cost of prescription drugs including capping the cost of lifesaving drugs like insulin.

In America, our state of the union is strong. But the clock is ticking and we need to move beyond words. We must get legislation passed and executive orders signed today as we continue to work towards a world where every American can get the health care they need.

Lives depend on it.

Laura Packard is a stage 4 cancer survivor and Denver-based health care advocate, and founder of Health Care Voices, a nonprofit grassroots organization for adults with serious medical conditions. She wrote this piece for Colorado Newsline, a sibling site of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, where it first appeared

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