Lighting the Way to Health Care

For what seems like the umpteenth time, Congress recently voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare. This time, the majority threw in defunding Planned Parenthood for good measure. The horror in Colorado Springs appears to have had little impact on the anti-Planned Parenthood, anti-Obamacare campaign. These two agenda items have one thing in common -- they would deny access to quality affordable health care to millions of people, particularly women.

The legislative attacks on Planned Parenthood are intended to push abortion out of reach by jeopardizing the ability of many critical clinics to keep their doors open. If this effort succeeds, 4.7 million people would lose family planning and reproductive health care services that Planned Parenthood provides with federal funds. Access to safe, legal abortion would be greatly reduced in many parts of the country.

The second blow in this one-two punch -- repealing the Affordable Care Act -- would end access to health care for millions who have found it through healthcare.gov since the law took effect. Thanks to the new law, the nation's uninsurance rate is at a historic low. Individuals and families have gained coverage by signing up for insurance online or by enrolling in newly-expanded Medicaid. Thirty states and the District of Columbia have accepted federal funds to expand their Medicaid program so that more adults who need help can access affordable care -- a policy every state could and should adopt.

Women in particular have made significant gains under the new law -- the list of provisions that help women is lengthy and life-changing. For example, the ACA bars insurers from charging women more than men and denying coverage due to pre-existing conditions -- defined variously as having had cancer, having been pregnant or even having reported experiencing domestic violence. Women are now guaranteed benefits such as maternity care and preventive services like mammograms and birth control, with no out-of-pocket costs.

One would think, in this holiday season, a spirit of compassion for those with less access to resources would be a guiding light. But apparently some lawmakers would rather cut off their constituents' access to health care than give them support

What's the best way to demonstrate how wrong-headed and cruel this opposition is? Not only must we persist in urging federal lawmakers to save funding for Planned Parenthood and implementation of the Affordable Care Act and call on all states to enact Medicaid expansion, but we must also help more people get covered -- something we each can do that doesn't hinge on lawmakers seeing the light.

Time is of the essence. December 15 is the deadline to enroll in a marketplace plan for coverage that starts January 1. The final deadline for 2016 is January 31, when the marketplace closes for the year. Much remains to be done to sign up the nearly 34 million more who could get covered in the marketplace with financial assistance or who should be getting expanded Medicaid but aren't. For all the debate and fulmination, millions still are unaware of what insurance they might be entitled to or how to get it. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly half of the nonelderly who are still uninsured are eligible for some type of assistance in 2015, either by getting financial help for marketplace coverage or qualifying for Medicaid.

No one thought it would be easy to achieve full health coverage for everyone in the US. And the law is not perfect. Some are still left out of overall access or to comprehensive coverage due to immigration status, income, and other factors. As we strive to resolve those challenges, we can act so everyone currently eligible to get covered knows how to do so, using social media, healthcare.gov, and calling (1-800-318-2596) for help.

As part of its Healthy Communities Challenge, the White House has highlighted 20 communities with particularly high rates of uninsurance. In those areas, our advocacy is especially needed. In the Jewish community, as we celebrate Chanukah, we are inspired by the shamash candle. It is used to kindle the menorah's first light, and each successive candle for eight nights. The shamash makes a difference night after night, spreading light from candle to candle. So, too, can each of us take action, person to person, to expand health care access. Millions of individuals need no longer rely only on the miracles symbolized by the lights of Chanukah to care for their health and economic security. We must seize the opportunity to shed light this season by advancing health care access and demand that Congress not extinguish this light of progress.

Nancy Kaufman is the chief executive officer of the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW), a grassroots organization of volunteers and advocates that strives for social justice by improving the quality of life for women, children, and families.