by Kate Kendell, NCLR Executive Director.
In August 2012, I had (another) bike crash. It was my own idiocy that caused the crash. I was riding down a hill in San Francisco, just blocks from home, when, in trying to beat the light, I swerved around a MUNI train. My bike tire got wedged in the MUNI track and I was thrown to the ground. I landed on my head (thank the goddess I always wear a helmet). A very sweet guy stopped to help me. He called 911, I called Sandy, an ambulance came, and I was taken to the emergency room. Everything I just related to you about the crash, I do not remember. The last thing I really remember in this whole experience is the moment I swerved around the MUNI train.
I ended up with nine staples in my head, a concussion, a huge bruise on my hip, and a $12,000 emergency room bill fully covered by my health insurance. That bike wreck was one of dozens of times that I have been so grateful to have health insurance. The bulk of those moments have involved my kids. Our family was never forced to wait out a bad fever or a wracking cough, hoping for the best. If a cold took a turn for the worse or something didn’t sound or look right, we never hesitated in heading to the pediatrician. Each of our kids once had pneumonia, and had we waited the situation would have become life-threatening.
For families without health insurance, a child’s cough prompts intense worry and a bike wreck means financial ruin. Maintaining decent health should be a basic human right. Everyone needs the ability to seek preventive, urgent, or emergency health care. Everyone deserves, as a matter of right, affordable health care. No family or individual should ever again be forced to choose between taking their kids to the doctor or paying rent. And accessing healthcare should not devastate a family’s finances. But for millions of families, healthcare has been a luxury—and we all have been paying the price—in the form of a less healthy population and higher insurance costs.
With the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), that reality is finally changing. Every single person who needs health insurance will now be able to have it. Since last month, the problems with the rollout and the website have overshadowed the hugely beneficial impact of the ACA for millions of families and individuals. Now that those issues have been largely resolved, it’s time to refocus this conversation on what the ACA really means for people all over this country: if you are uninsured because of costs, pre-existing conditions, or unemployment you can now get affordable and effective healthcare coverage. This is HUGE.
The ACA was enacted to increase the quality and affordability of health insurance, expand public and private insurance coverage so that far fewer people are uninsured, and reduce the costs of healthcare for individuals and the government. The law also requires insurance companies to cover all applicants within new minimum standards and offer the same rates regardless of pre-existing conditions or sex.
The law is not perfect. It still gives too much control to insurance providers and fails to cover undocumented individuals, but it is an enormous improvement over the previous system that left too many with no way to access affordable care.
If you are uninsured, you can now access healthcare that is affordable and actually COVERS most major healthcare needs. The ACA can only work for you if you enroll. Don’t be discouraged by the early reports of problems accessing the website. Those problems have been fixed, and the website is functioning as it should to get people access to affordable quality care. You must sign up by December 23 in order to have your coverage start as soon as January 1, when ACA coverage officially begins. If you need help navigating the process, check out the LGBT health care guide that NCLR collaborated on with our friends at
Strong Families designed to help LGBT people and families sign up for the ACA. Out2Enroll is another terrific guide that takes you through the process step by step. Signing up is easy—and there are tons of great resources out there to make sure it goes as smoothly as possible for you and your family.
When I was in college I had no health insurance, despite the fact that my Dad was an insurance agent! An individual policy was just too much for me or my parents to afford. (Of course now, under the ACA I would be able to stay on my parent’s policy until age 26). During the winter of my junior year I was so sick I could hardly take my exams, and when I did go, no one wanted to be close to me with my hacking cough. Someone finally mentioned that I should check out the insurance coverage for students offered by the college. The next week, I had health insurance for $24 a month. I promptly went to the doctor. It turns out, I had pneumonia.
I have never taken my health or the ability to get healthcare for granted. But having health insurance should never be a privilege. It should be what we provide to people because we are decent and humane.
Kate Kendell, Esq.
NCLR Executive Director