As a member of the clergy, it is a clear duty to care for the least among us. Oftentimes we are the ones that witness, firsthand, the effects of a broken health care system in the communities that we serve. All too often those who are categorized as being in the least are being frustrated by a system which is broken.
Nationally we found relief in 2010 when the Affordable Care Act was passed.
The ACA came into being because people recognized that the health care system is broken, and millions of people came together to fight for solutions, against powerful opposition from those who benefited from the status quo – especially private insurance companies. People came together because 400,000 people in Connecticut have no health coverage. We refuse to go backward, because we stand for justice, because we believe without doubt or question, that it is a human right to have affordable, sustainable and quality healthcare. Furthermore, we know that, with Governor Malloy’s bold leadership, we will move Connecticut forward.
Because health care reform activists and the clergy of the Interfaith Fellowship for Universal Health Care are driven by a quest for health care justice, even prior to the ACA, our health reform campaign was the “little engine that could,” chugging away in Connecticut. And in the last few years those efforts have begun to see results.
When the ACA passed, Connecticut was primed and ready to implement the law. It is one of only 14 states moving forward to establish Health Insurance Exchanges, the marketplaces where individuals will be able to purchase insurance, beginning in 2014 with the help of subsidies provided by the federal government.
But our state has done more than just implement the federal law.
In 2009 Connecticut passed its own health reform law, SustiNet, which focused on implementing a public health insurance option for the uninsured and underinsured in our state. SustiNet also focused on changing how health care is delivered and financed, to promote a more effective and efficient system.
Connecticut has restructured its Medicaid program to promote person-centered care, including assisting physician offices to become recognized as patient-centered medical homes and having a payment system that rewards performance. The state employee health plan benefits were restructured to encourage employees to focus on prevention as well as to learn how to better manage chronic conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
And municipalities have been offered the opportunity to join the state employee plan, potentially allowing some towns to obtain better coverage for lower cost.
No matter what decision the Supreme Court hands us this month, the responsibility for a better system will fall to each state. The infrastructure that has been built will help the state continue its forward momentum on this issue. Sure, the most negative ruling from the Supreme Court will adjust how the state tackles the work, changes the tools we have to work with and alters the timeline until we can complete the task, but Connecticut can still change how the insurance industry works.
But we have to have the will to make those changes. It is so simple to label health care reform as a partisan issue and separate ourselves from it, especially if we are blessed enough to have great healthcare coverage. However, the reality is that today many citizens of Connecticut may need to choose to eat or to pay for their prescriptions. Many citizens have to live with untreated curable conditions that often develop into long term illness, because of lack of quality health care.
Will we join with our neighbors and push our elected leaders to rise to the occasion and do the right thing?
If that challenge can be met we can have a system that won’t cost any more than it does now, those who are insured would have few expenses, and those without insurance would be covered. To top it all off, there would be more jobs in health care—not fewer—and an overall increase in available household income.
And all of us, from those with the least to those with the most, will find one burden lifted from our shoulders.
Rev. Damaris Whittaker is the Interfaith Fellowship for Universal Health Care Co-Chair