Championing Coverage

Let's say you've always supported having a national health plan that extends coverage to as many people as possible. Or, maybe you have health coverage at work and so haven't paid all that much attention to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Maybe you desperately need coverage, but have been waiting until the last minute to sign up on the ACA's health insurance marketplace because you heard so much about the glitches.

What do we all have in common? Each of us needs the new law to work. We need it to keep health care costs down by dramatically expanding preventive care, especially for women. We need it to keep non-emergency cases out of the emergency room. We need it to cut down on uncompensated care that those with insurance wind up paying for. We need comprehensive health care reform for many, many reasons, but the most important is that we need it to save each other's lives. Before the ACA, an estimated 40,000 people died prematurely because they lacked health care. To make that figure a distant memory, we need to get as many people as possible to sign up now for health care coverage through the marketplace.

The health insurance marketplace puts affordable, quality coverage within reach of more individuals and families -- but only if they sign up by this year's enrollment deadline, March 31, 2014. By exploring their options in the marketplace, most people are learning they are eligible for financial assistance to afford coverage; in fact, that has been the case for more than 80 percent of people who signed up for private plans through early February. They are getting coverage they can count on. Plans in the marketplace can't deny adults and children coverage due to pre-existing conditions or kick them off when they get sick, among other protections. They can also have peace of mind knowing key health benefits are covered, from prescriptions to maternity care, as well as a range of preventive services like cancer screenings and contraception without co-pays.

There is a role for absolutely everyone in making our vision of fully accessible, affordable, quality health care a reality. This week more than 20 Jewish organizations joined together for a Jewish Community Day of Action for Health Care to champion access to coverage -- to educate our constituencies and the public at large about the coverage options available in the health insurance marketplace created under the ACA. Here are some of the ways we are doing it, and how you can be a part of it.

The simplest, low-tech thing that everyone can do is talk. We are talking to our family, our friends, our neighbors, our co-workers, our classmates. We are asking them if they have health insurance and if they don't, we are offering them the info they need to sign up. We are using our social media networks to do the same thing, reaching out beyond those we know personally. You can do all this and more. Put up a poster. Write a letter to the editor. Write an op-ed yourself under your own name or ask the leader of your religious community to submit one. Host a gathering to explain what the marketplace is, and how people can get involved in helping others in their community get covered. Invite people to view a webinar on the benefits and process of enrolling.

A crucial part of the Affordable Care Act is the option for states to expand eligibility for Medicaid to cover millions more people who have been too poor to pay for health care but not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid coverage. State legislators and governors must act to make this happen in each state, even though the federal government will pay 100 percent of the cost for the first three years and more than 90 percent in perpetuity. If you are in one of the 25 states that haven't expanded Medicaid, you can join the fight to get it passed.

The point is if all of us who support greater access to health care take it upon ourselves to help make it happen, we can get millions more to sign up by the March 31 deadline. The Jewish Community Day of Action is premised on the principle that we are all created b'tzelem elohim, in the image of our maker. Each of us is equally deserving of access to services that enable us to stay healthy or to get care when we need it, without risking our financial future or being unable to meet our other human needs, like housing or food.

Our day of action hopes to produce many more champions for coverage -- people who will become part of fixing our health care system by putting our own shoulders to the wheel. Every person that gets covered because you reached out brings us closer to the day when our entire country is covered. That person could be someone you already know. Someone who is burdened by fear of bankruptcy if she or he gets sick. And yes, someone who could die without health care coverage.

We have an opportunity to truly affect social change. Won't you join us?