In his State of the Union address, President Obama has a compelling story to tell the country about the importance of health security to America's middle class and why we have to stop the Republican assault on Medicare, Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The ACA is an extraordinary accomplishment and is already making a huge difference in people's lives by making health care more affordable for families and businesses and protecting consumers from insurance company abuses. Along with Social Security, these bedrock programs are essential to ensuring that everyone in this country has a fair shot at achieving the American Dream.
The president has plenty of examples to make his case. Thanks to the ACA, 2.5 million young adults were able to obtain health coverage this past year. The worst practices of big insurance companies, including denying coverage for pre-existing conditions, are now against the law. Health care is becoming more affordable for small businesses and seniors on Medicare. When fully implemented the law will provide tens of millions of Americans the same range of coverage choices as members of Congress. People will have peace of mind that they will always be able to afford good coverage -- even if they lose a job, start a small business or retire early. These are powerful themes the President could discuss, and polling has repeatedly shown that they are highly valued by the American people despite relentless attacks on the law by the Republicans.
The president could use the speech to remind the nation that Medicare and Medicaid are the cornerstones of our health care system and provide equal opportunity for all. We don't want a society that leaves people to fend for themselves when they fall ill. Only if everyone has affordable health care can we have a vibrant middle class to power the world's leading economy.
The stakes are huge. If the Republicans get their way and turn Medicaid into a so-called block grant, millions of seniors would be thrown out of nursing homes. Middle class families would be slammed with crushing health care costs for their parents while struggling to make ends meet, save for their own retirement and send kids to college. Children and people with disabilities will go without needed care. Huge costs will be shifted to state governments, jobs will be lost and the economy will be hurt.
The Republicans want to eliminate Medicare as we know it and send our parents and grandparents into bankruptcy. Their plan would transform guaranteed health care benefits for seniors into a voucher scheme that would send hundreds of billions of dollars directly to private insurance companies. Retirees would be forced to pay two to three times more out of their pockets to care for themselves, and it would fall to adult children and extended families to bankroll the difference - whether they can afford to or not.
Every Republican plan to 'reform' Medicare or Medicaid is just another way to shift health costs to seniors and families who cannot afford to pay more. Were the Republicans to succeed in repealing the ACA, they have nothing to replace it with except a return to the days when consumers were at the mercy of profit-hungry insurance companies.
A lot of work remains to be done, but when it comes to health care the State of the Union is strong. President Obama is fortunate to have a Health and Human Services Department that's doing a solid job implementing the ACA and protecting our health security. We must stand strong to fight the GOP's hyper-partisan attacks on the health care programs that are making America healthier and moving our great country closer to achieving its promise.