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October 7, 2013
After years of debate, on October 1 our nation realized a tremendous milestone in how we provide health care in America -- the rollout of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). It's one of the most controversial pieces of legislation in recent history and the largest overhaul of our health care system since the creation of Medicare. Despite the challenges and controversy, the struggle has been worth it -- the ACA is one of the most significant pieces of anti-poverty legislation passed in decades. In the most basic sense, the law mandates that quality health care must be available to all Americans, regardless of income. The deeper value, however, is much greater. In passing this law, we as a nation made a decision to validate the belief that health care is a human right. We made the decision that no one should have to choose between heart medications and keeping the lights on, and no one should have to watch their children become ill, knowing they can't afford care for them if they're going to pay rent that month. This is the reality for millions of Americans living in poverty today. We at Heartland Alliance, the leading anti-poverty organization in the Midwest, where I work, know this fact too well. For 125 years, we've provided health care services to those who have been forced to make those choices and who are suffering under the weight of complicated chronic illnesses. We know that a life of poverty is one on the edge, with lack of comprehensive health care acting as a major contributor. The time we as a nation have spent in our recent squabbles over the ACA ignores this fact -- that the lack of care is trapping people in poverty and putting lives on the line. It also ignores the fact that the ACA can help resolve this via newly expanded Medicaid eligibility. Until the passage of the ACA, low-income individuals with no dependent children or disabilities were ineligible for Medicaid coverage. The ACA gives states the right to open their Medicaid programs to this often overlooked group and receive Federal funding for the costs. Illinois has taken advantage of this option, leading the way in providing comprehensive, reliable health care for all.
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