As we wind down 2013, Marylanders are hearing a lot about health care — on the news, in the paper, maybe even over dinner or at the local coffee shop. With all the numbers and terms out there, and all the talk from politicians and pundits, it's important not to lose sight of the most important thing: people.

The Affordable Care Act is about people getting quality care when they get sick. It's about helping keep them healthy so they don't get that way. It's about making health care more affordable for Marylanders. And it's about making sure, when accidents or illness strike, no one has to go bankrupt to get the care they need.

This month, we learned that roughly 77,000 people have created accounts through the Maryland Health Connection insurance marketplace website. That's 77,000 people who are planning to buy health insurance, and with it, the peace of mind and protection it affords, whether they are young or old, married or single, in good health  or not.

These are real people who are signing up, even if it takes a little longer to buy the coverage because of technical glitches, or they have to use a paper application or come back a little later, because good things are worth the wait.

Working families are now guaranteed that health insurance will cover doctors' visits and prescriptions and preventive care. Women now know that pregnancy is covered, and not potentially considered a "preexisting condition" that could threaten their ability to get coverage. Seniors and young professionals can now get the financial help they need to pay for their care.

Yes, there have been problems with the website, but with just weeks remaining for people to enroll and have coverage effective January 1, now is not the time to spend our energies and resources on investigations and finger-pointing. We must put all our focus into making sure the system works well so that we can build on Maryland's great recent history of health care progress. That is what Marylanders expect of their leaders, and that is what they deserve.

Maryland has a proven track record of putting people first in health decisions. Back in 2008, the O'Malley-Brown administration expanded coverage to more than 100,000 lower-income working parents (largely funded by a life-saving tobacco tax increase). This brought Maryland from 34th to 14th in the nation in health care coverage for lower income people.

Members of our Maryland Health Care for All Coalition which has advocated for access to quality and affordable health care since 1999, met these families and heard their stories firsthand around kitchen tables and living rooms all over the state. We heard from lower income mothers and fathers who were able to get health coverage for the first time, often in time to save their lives or avoid catastrophic illnesses. We heard from small business owners who were able for the first time to provide health care coverage to their employees and young people being able to stay longer on their parents' health plans. Because of these successes, we know what great things lie ahead for Maryland families with expanded health care options in the months to come. 

Thanks to the ACA, high quality, affordable health care is now within the reach of hundreds of thousands of Marylanders who've never had it before. By Jan. 1, more than 100,000 additional Marylanders will be enrolled in no-cost health care through Medicaid. Gone will be the days of being one unforeseen medical bill away from bankruptcy or relying on expensive emergency room care.

Our New Year's resolution for 2014 at the Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative is to keep talking about the people. Because here in Maryland we look at the year ahead and see what's in store when we have health care for thousands more moms and dads, more seniors and small business owners, college students and young professionals just starting out. We've seen their faces and heard their experiences and we know the real story is about them. And, we will all benefit as we reduce the hidden health care tax we pay for uncompensated hospital care of the uninsured.

Marylanders, taking care of your health is not a game for politicians to play. It's about your friends and neighbors and your family, and what will make our state strong in 2014 — and beyond.

It's about people. Don't let anyone tell you differently.

Vincent DeMarco is President of the Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative and the Maryland Health Care For All! Coalition. His email is demarco@mdinitiative.org.

 


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