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Commentary: The Battle to Insure Everyone

Last week saw the beginning of a federal government shut-down—at least a partial shut-down. Even the most ardent of the angry fringe element that subverted the Congressional legislative process to cause the partial shut-down seemed willing to admit that there were some “essential” services of government that needed to continue. To be able to use the words “essential” and “government” in the same sentence is a step forward for some people who severely criticize government for whatever it does or does not do and for whatever happens or does not happen. There is still a wide chasm to bridge between what is considered necessary for the government to do and what should be left to individuals. Health care is at that juncture.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is the law of the land that has been passed by the Congress, signed by the president, reviewed and approved as constitutional by the Supreme Court, and was a key issue in a campaign in which the president was re-elected by more than five million votes. While some would argue with the details of the Affordable Care Act, it is clear that as a country we have taken a stand that each individual is entitled access to health insurance regardless of whether their employer provides it. A small but vocal minority in the Republican Party disagrees and has decided to block the ability of the federal government to pay its bills as they try to get their way on stopping a law they have been unable to overturn in 40 attempts.

At the same time, the American people have crashed websites and tied up systems in their frantic rush to get into the program. Its difficulty to date has been its overwhelming appeal and acceptance. There seems to be a major disconnect between the people who re-elected the president and who are now flocking to get affordable health care and those who oppose him and the program. Events unfolding in the nation’s capital are an excellent case study in how not to do business and the consequences of dysfunctional behavior in government.

Travel consultant Rick Steves wrote last week that Americans are about to get what Europeans have had for decades—affordable health care. Steves said, “It’s amazing to me that in our great nation, about a fifth of the citizens are unable to afford health insurance, need to go to the emergency room for routine medical needs, and are terrorized by the specter of one serious accident or sickness wiping out their family financially. ...It is an embarrassment that so many Americans are brutalized by health-care costs.”

The battle as to whether or not everyone will have access to preventive services and adequate health care has been settled. It is time for those who disagree with that decision to focus on ways to improve implementation of the ACA—not try to block the law from taking effect. At the state level, we need to enhance Virginians access to health care options with our own marketplace for health care services without being fully dependent on the federal government. We need to expand Medicaid to provide health insurance to 400,000 currently uninsured Virginians. It’s time to move onward.