Peace of Mind for 30 Cents

Thirty cents. What is mere pocket change to some bought an insurance card, and with it, peace of mind for one of many families.

As the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) first open enrollment period winds down, critics continue their attempts to repeal the law. But the reality of life under "Obamacare" is different. Health care reform created a sea change for many people -- five million as of this month and counting -- and Bishnu Kamar is one of them.

Bishnu spends her days as a social worker, working alongside her Philadelphia neighbors. No matter how strong her work ethic, before the ACA, she and her husband were priced out of health insurance coverage. They were caught in an all too common predicament: not "poor enough" for Medicaid, but too poor to afford a private plan in the open market. Although they worked hard, played by the rules and aspired to achieve the American Dream like many other immigrants, they could not afford basic health insurance in the country they now called home.

And the Kamar's were not alone. They were part of the ranks of nearly 50 million other Americans who could not afford health insurance.

The ACA changed all that and helped level the playing field for the Kamar's and other Americans. For the first time, low- and middle-income Americans can get help buying insurance. With it, Bishnu got a high-quality private health plan for a price tag of $0.30 a month, thanks to the law's tax credit. This was unimaginable in the days before the ACA. Despite the online technology glitches, Bishnu worked through the application process with the help of a dedicated application counselor. When her insurance card arrived at her home, Bishnu's happiness was palpable.

Having access to affordable, preventive care helps healthy people stay that way and prevents a multitude of illnesses and chronic conditions down the road. Insurance coverage means no longer living in fear of falling ill, or letting treatable conditions worsen to the point of needing an expensive emergency room visit in the wee hours. Lack of health insurance takes a considerable physical, mental and financial toll.

When Bishnu was uninsured, she had the unfortunate luck of having a medical emergency. Her friend raced her to the emergency room with dangerously low-blood pressure. While her body healed, her pocketbook took a hit -- to the tune of $7,000 for just four hours of emergency care. Without health insurance or Medicaid assistance, Bishnu and her family found themselves with an astronomical bill. Fortunately, they received assistance and were able to reduce the amount and eventually paid it off.

But each year, millions of other American families are not so lucky. Medical bills are one of the top causes of personal bankruptcies. The uninsured often receive bills for emergency care that are several times higher than their monthly rent. This is enough to strike fear into anyone, even more so for those just living paycheck to paycheck.

Maximizing access to health insurance is not controversial. It is good medicine, good policy and good for the nation.

When the dust settles on the Obamacare battles, stories like Bishnu's will be told across the country. The health care law may not be perfect; most major pieces of legislation are not. But the ACA is a vast improvement to our existing health care infrastructure.

Four years after President Obama signed his signature achievement into law, what matters is that millions of people now have coverage they can count on. That's what the ACA will be remembered for.