Not too long ago, virtually everyone -- both Democrats and Republicans -- agreed that in a country as prosperous as ours, all Americans should have access to a doctor when they're sick as well as the preventive care necessary to help keep them healthy. There was broad consensus that the Emergency Room was by far the most costly place to go for routine care.
While many of us in Congress vigorously disagreed in good faith about the best approaches to achieving that objective -- some thought the solution was government-based and others wanted to rely on purely private approaches -- we always seemed to be working toward the same goal of making health-care coverage accessible for every American.
Today, however, it is painfully clear that Republicans in Congress no longer share this goal. In fact, they are fighting tooth and nail to prevent families from obtaining affordable health-care coverage, even though the law includes most of the private-based model they had sought for decades.
Four years ago, we had a great debate over the shape of health-care reform -- and some ideas won out, while others did not. Such is the nature of democracy and the democratic process. It was not the bill I would have written line for line, but I was proud to support it.
What Americans got from the Affordable Care Act was a thoughtful law that brings us closer than ever before to the goal of affordable health care for all, while simultaneously lifting from our economy the heavy burden of runaway health costs.
The irony here is that the law is built on long-standing bipartisan and Republican ideas -- ideas we've talked about for years -- and it is already starting to work. It's changing the way we spend our money on health care. In Medicare, for example, seniors now get annual physicals and key preventive screenings, and the coverage gap seniors were facing with their medicines is gone, all while giving the Medicare Trust Fund another 10 years of funding.
When the new insurance plans begin to kick in as soon as January 2014, everyone who is enrolled will get real health care, not some policy that you pay for month after month, only to discover it doesn't cover you when you need it. Your plan is going to cover a hospital stay, provide access to a specialist when you need one, medicine to keep your high blood pressure at bay, and the mental health services critical to treating an addiction.
The law cracks down on the worst insurance industry abuses. The law makes these companies spend their money on you -- they must spend at least 80 percent of the premiums you pay on actual health care rather than on fancy buildings or executive bonuses.
The law covers children, even with pre-existing conditions. No longer are you going to hit roadblocks when you try to get coverage for your child who has a long-standing illness or injury. And starting on Jan. 1, 2014, the same will be true for Americans of all ages. The days of being kicked off your insurance plan for being sick are going to be over.
I want to be clear -- you can't transform a health-care system, especially one that's as inefficient as ours, in an instant. But I'm confident this is the path forward, and, as legislators, we've got a responsibility to make the law work the best it can for the well-being of the American people.
West Virginia's Health Insurance Marketplace is just opening, and people will have six full months to explore what options are available and sign up. These Marketplace policies aren't just about patching you up when you are sick. In fact, they are all about keeping you from getting sick in the first place. The age of having to choose between food and medicine is on the way out -- just like the House Republicans' cynical attempts to panic millions of Americans so they won't seek out the coverage that's available to them.
We are, for the first time in our nation's history, so close to making the dream of affordable health care a reality.