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ACA is latest transformative achievement in America

Kevin Kane

About once in a generation a visionary idea becomes law and has a striking and profound effect on the lives of all Americans. Now that the first open enrollment has ended, we can say confidently the Affordable Care Act is one of those visionary laws.

In the 1930s, that idea was Social Security, the belief that no American of a certain age should be thrown into soul-crushing poverty. In the 1960s, that idea was Medicare and Medicaid. In short order the freedom to access quality health coverage was extended to millions of seniors, Americans with disabilities and low-income Americans. Ultimately, despite entrenched conservative opposition, the common good prevailed and every American now has some level of guaranteed income and health coverage in their golden years.

Likewise, in 2008, the demands for freedom were too loud to ignore. Rising health costs jeopardized Americans just trying to keep their head above water. Here in the land of freedom, insurance companies wielded that vulgar term “pre-existing condition” to castigate citizens into a form of health care exile. A world where a parent can be told their child is “uninsurable” is not a world anyone should desire.

Once more a visionary idea became law. Despite its bumpy beginning, the Affordable Care Act is a moral advance on a par with Medicare and Social Security because it frees Americans from the fear of being told they are uninsurable.

With this newfound freedom, millions of Americans will take new opportunities and bring new strengths to a 21st Century economy.

Like Social Security and Medicare, the Affordable Care Act has been attacked constantly since its passage. Current conservative legislators are channeling the spirit of segregationist governors, fighting tooth and nail to block or restrict this important law in the states. But like any child holding their breath in protest, it can’t last forever.

No truly visionary law is static, unchanging. When it was made law, Social Security didn’t provide equal status to men and women. Medicare in its original form didn’t cover people with disabilities or prescription drug coverage. They were amended as needed and the Affordable Care Act is no different. And in their protests, opponents of the law have revealed health reform’s next frontier, the states.

States are now the laboratories of reform. Reining in insurance companies and improving coverage will be the field in which states now compete. States that fail to get the message will condemn their citizens to higher costs and harm their own economic competitiveness. They will realize that an active government watchdog is the only way to steer a runaway health care market.

The Affordable Care Act is the latest in a string of transformative achievements in American history that declares confidently that we each cannot do better individually unless we all do better together.

A cacophony of harsh voices and narrow interests will continue trying to drag the law to their level, but a generation of citizens will forever look to this law as an expansion of the rights of all Americans to live and prosper.

And this quiet constituency, now finding their voice, scares conservatives far more than anything else.

Kevin Kane is the lead organizer for Citizen Action of Wisconsin and has fought for years to promote, educate on and improve the Affordable Care Act in Wisconsin. He was protected by the ACA’s ban on pre-existing condition discrimination and is licensed to enroll the public.