By Senator John Kerry
Two years ago today, President Obama signed into law our landmark universal health care reform.
The 24/7 news cycle left little time to provide historical context, but it was a milestone a century in the making. Presidents as disparate as Teddy Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton had all tried to do this and come up short.
But we got there in 2010. And then all hell broke loose. Yes, we paid a political price, and some good folks went down to defeat because they'd put their careers on the line for health care. Good for them. One day a vote for health reform will be remembered the same way as a vote for the Civil Rights Act or the Clinton deficit reduction package of 1993, because when you're on the right side of history, and you do the right thing despite the heat of the moment, ultimately the pendulum swings back your way.
And well it should, because despite some of the ugliest and most deceitful rhetoric I've ever seen in a legislative debate -- from the smear of "death panels" to the lies about "socialized medicine" -- the lives of tens of millions of Americans will be demonstrably better because of the Affordable Care Act. They say the proof is in the pudding; in this case, the proof will be in the patients. Patients who won't be turned away or denied insurance because of preexisting conditions such as cancer, childhood asthma, or even past pregnancies.
While others refuse to recognize this reality, one thing is certain. None of this national change would have been possible if Massachusetts hadn't paved the way and provided the model for reform. We took a moral imperative and showed the nation it was achievable. Now, as we approach the sixth anniversary of reform in Massachusetts, our coverage rates are the best in the country -- 98 percent of people have health insurance, including 99.8 percent of kids. We've made coverage affordable to low-income folks, maximized enrollment in Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), ensured that individuals and employers pay their fair share, and created a health insurance exchange so consumers can comparison shop for health insurance. Contrary to ideological bluster, which forecasted that reform would erode private health insurance, employer-based coverage has grown in Massachusetts even as it has declined in most states. In Massachusetts, 76 percent of employers now offer coverage; the national average is just 60 percent.
Even better, the Affordable Care Act will bring the successes of Massachusetts to the nation -- ensuring that by 2016, 93 percent of Americans will have health insurance and 30 million previously uninsured Americans will have the care that should be a right, not a privilege.
What we accomplished nationally is also good for Massachusetts. It's bringing us substantial federal assistance over the next decade to sustain and strengthen MassHealth programs. We're already seeing the results. Massachusetts has already received nearly $190 million in federal funding to build our health care workforce, crack down on fraud and support public health -- including $73 million in grants to our community health centers. Thanks to the new health care law, over 20,000 young adults in Massachusetts gained insurance coverage because they were allowed to stay on their parent's plan until they turned 26. Nearly 71,000 seniors in the Bay State received help with their prescription drug costs because we closed Medicare's unfair prescription drug donut hole. Because of the law's emphasis on prevention, over 780,000 Medicare beneficiaries in our state received free preventive services -- such as mammograms and colonoscopies -- or a free annual wellness visit with their doctor. And in 2011, 1.3 million Massachusetts residents with private health insurance gained access to preventive services without any out-of-pocket cost.
Two years later, I look back on that vote and I know we did the right thing -- and the proof is in the peoples' lives that are better now and millions more that will be better for it in the years to come. Instead of running away from what we accomplished, we should embrace it. In American politics there's no "way-back machine" -- you can't avoid your way into office. But mainly because we have a great story to tell about making health care better and more affordable, we shouldn't run from the truth, we should run on the truth. Partisan rhetoric and political hyperbole, however untrue, can make great theater and can sway a news cycle or even an election cycle -- but it cannot survive the test of history. Ultimately, it's hard to argue with reality. If you want to see that health reform can work, come to Massachusetts. And if you want to see it work in America, just wait, because the best is still to come.