Former President Barack Obama visited the White House this week for the first time since he departed as president to celebrate the anniversary of the Affordable Care Act, also referred to as Obamacare. The ACA bill was signed into law on March 23, 2010.
Obama often recalled the hard-fought battle his administration faced to convince lawmakers and business leaders to support a bill that would provide affordable health coverage for most Americans. Stories about the financial hardships a medical emergency caused families and individuals were told repeatedly, especially by the media, much like COVID-19 is today. And the storytellers were Americans in the midst of a crisis urging Congress to do something about it.
But it didn’t start there.
In 1993, President Bill Clinton proposed a plan to provide universal health care for all Americans. The person who chaired the task force responsible for designing the plan was his wife, first lady Hillary Clinton. The bill didn’t pass but Obama successfully ushered in a plan that serves more than 14.5 million Americans today.
Two years ago, when COVID-19 began to spread and the health care system was severely challenged by what soon became a pandemic, many determined it was “broken.” Hospitals were overwhelmed with patients who contracted the virus, and it is the place where many of them died. The virus disproportionately impacted African Americans and most who contracted the virus or succumbed to it also had preexisting conditions exacerbated by the virus.
Now, President Biden has gone a step further. To mark the ACA’s 12th anniversary, he has proposed a change to Obamacare to allow more eligibility for premium tax credits. Families will receive tax credits if the cost of their coverage exceeds more than 10 percent of their incomes. These changes, Biden said, allow an estimated 200,000 presently uninsured Americans to gain coverage, and “nearly one million Americans will see their coverage become more affordable,” Biden said.
Still, inequities in the health care system persist, according to a recent report by the Black Coalition Against COVID. The State of Black America and COVID-19 provides a two-year assessment of the impact of COVID on Black Americans and concludes that pre-existing structural and social inequities that have long driven disparities were vital risk factors for COVID-19 among Black people. And it offers 12 action steps and a call to action to address inequities and establish a “sustainable community and public health infrastructure ready to respond to future public health crises.”
Americans are benefiting from “Obamacare” but much still needs to be done to fix a system that remains far from perfect.