As the founding executive director of Families USA, I've been hoping for 32 years to write this opinion piece about our quest for affordable, quality health care for everyone. Finally, we are at the cusp of achieving that long-sought goal.
That doesn't mean we're all the way there yet. There are gaps in coverage, and some parts of the Affordable Care Act can certainly be tweaked to make it better. But, for all intents and purposes, we have finally made it possible for the vast majority of Americans to have access to the preventive and medical care they need — and that our nation deserves.
And there's an important task that remains to be completed in Florida. While the door is open for access to coverage, we are very quickly approaching the March 31 deadline to sign up for private coverage. More than 1.73 million Floridians are eligible for tax-credit subsidies to purchase quality coverage in the insurance marketplace. Those Floridians with individual coverage owe it to themselves and their families to at least see if they can get a better deal on health coverage. Odds are that they can.
What's holding them back? Why wouldn't the average family, with the full knowledge of both the importance and cost of good health care coverage, move more quickly to see if there's money to be saved and ultimately better options? It's almost certainly the misinformation — and in many cases, downright lies and deliberately misleading information — that has been spread far and wide over the last four years about the Affordable Care Act. It's become a veritable cottage industry.
The rollout of the enrollment process obviously had a rocky start, and the fury from the law's political opponents has been unrelenting. But we need to maintain a little perspective here. Many of us were around and or aware of the wealth of opposition to the rollouts of two prior milestone programs that have become part of the fabric of the American family — Social Security in 1935 and Medicare in 1965. And there are some who are still fighting those accomplishments to this day.
What's different today is that we now have instant and continuous communication from cable news, talk radio and countless online sources that have provided a rich breeding ground for incessant, mostly negative, banter while very seldom offering any real information about how middle-class families can improve their health coverage and their finances by taking advantage of what the law has to offer.
But the great success of Social Security and Medicare offers a clear lesson: Floridians need to ignore all of the negative static and investigate their options in the new health care marketplaces — despite what they may have heard or read.
We can celebrate that at least 442,000 people in Florida have signed up for health coverage in the open market since Oct. 1. Now the remaining Floridians, especially those who are uninsured, should at least check out the new insurance marketplace before the quickly approaching Monday deadline.
Many of these last-minute shoppers will likely include some of the estimated 7.84 million Floridians with health conditions like diabetes, asthma or cancer, who can now shop for coverage with confidence, knowing that insurance companies can no longer deny coverage or charge discriminatory premiums due to pre-existing conditions.
These new shoppers will also hopefully include many of the 581,000 18- to 34-year-olds in Florida, most of whom will find that quality health coverage is now much more affordable because of available tax credits. Those credits are provided on a sliding scale, which means those with lower incomes (like many young adults just getting started in their working lives) will receive the most financial help.
Whether young or middle-aged, today's insured Floridians will now have real, continuing coverage for health care. Gone for good are the annual and lifetime caps in health policies that once led to a stoppage of coverage — and too often when the insured party was in the hospital or in the midst of an expensive or long-term treatment.
And now it's time for the remaining Floridians who have not checked out www.healthcare.gov to act. I urge them to do so. You must get your application started by March 31, but there's good news. If there's any delay in getting your application processed — and a last-minute rush for coverage in Florida and across the nation could lead to such delays — deadline for completion has been extended beyond Monday. Avoid delays and enroll today.
Ronald Pollack is executive director of Families USA, a national nonprofit advocacy group that has sought quality, affordable health care for all Americans since 1982. He wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.