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The Personal Side of the Health Care Ruling

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Barack Obama 5

The Supreme Court today handed down the most anticipated ruling in decades. They found that the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare, health care law, however you’d like to say it) was constitutional. For months, Republicans argued that the entire law should be shelved because it was unconstitutional, all the while never saying how they would replace it or ensure coverage for all Americans. Fortunately, with today’s ruling, advocates of health care reform can breathe a sigh of relief.

This is great news for all Americans, but it is especially great news to the millions of Americans who are uninsured. And for people of color and women of color, today is great victory.  Here are just a few examples of the benefits of Obamacare to communities of color:

•    While women of color represent 36.3 percent of the U.S. female population, they account for 53.2 percent of uninsured women. In 2014 up to 10.3 million women will gain insurance coverage when Medicaid expands its eligibility to include people with incomes below 138 percent of the federal poverty level
•    Women of color have disproportionately higher rates of diabetes, obesity, heart disease and hypertension, and certain forms of cancer. Annually, 1,722 African American women die from breast cancer
•    Approximately 39.5 million women have already benefited from this provision, which especially helps those living with a chronic condition, and the act has already eliminated lifetime limits for 10.4 million African Americans with private insurance coverage.
•    An estimated 5.5 million African Americans, 6.1 million Latinos, 2.7 million Asians, and 0.3 million Native Americans, many of them women, are currently receiving expanded preventive service coverage under the Affordable Care Act

So first and foremost, this is a victory for anyone who has, wants or cares about everyone having access to health care. It was frustrating to hear this case talked about ONLY in political terms, as if there weren’t real people’s lives at state. But since we’re talking politics, I will say that this is obviously a victory for President Obama. His administration worked hard for years to get this law passed and it was something he believed in deeply.

But it is important to remember what’s really at stake here. From the President’s remarks earlier:

There’s a framed letter that hangs in my office right now.  It was sent to me during the health care debate by a woman named Natoma Canfield.  For years and years, Natoma did everything right.  She bought health insurance.  She paid her premiums on time.  But 18 years ago, Natoma was diagnosed with cancer. And even though she’d been cancer-free for more than a decade, her insurance company kept jacking up her rates, year after year.  And despite her desire to keep her coverage -- despite her fears that she would get sick again -- she had to surrender her health insurance, and was forced to hang her fortunes on chance. 

I carried Natoma’s story with me every day of the fight to pass this law.  It reminded me of all the Americans, all across the country, who have had to worry not only about getting sick, but about the cost of getting well. 

Natoma is well today.  And because of this law, there are other Americans -- other sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers -- who will not have to hang their fortunes on chance.  These are the Americans for whom we passed this law. 

Daniella Gibbs Léger, a former special assistant to President Obama, is the Vice President for American Values and New Communities at the Center for American Progress. Follow her on Twitter @dgibber123

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