Prior to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), our broken health care system forced workers to make tough choices. For many people, having health insurance was dependent on having a full-time job and even then, workers had to hope that their employers offered health plans that were comprehensive and affordable.
For millions of workers, leaving a job or losing a job meant losing employer-sponsored health insurance and having to purchase a plan in the individual market, which consistently failed American families. Before the ACA, health plans sold in the individual market could deny individuals coverage or charge them more on the basis of their health status or health history. If anyone in your family had a pre-existing condition, your family was uninsurable. Individual-market plans routinely charged women more than men for the same policies and, despite expensive premiums, often failed to cover essential health services such as maternity care.
The uncertainty of having to purchase coverage in the individual health insurance market made it impossible for many workers to leave or change their jobs, for fear of losing their health insurance. Parents of children with diabetes or asthma could not change jobs or take advantage of new opportunities, for fear their children’s illnesses would be considerd pre-existing conditions and excluded from coverage under new insurance plans. Moms who wanted to work part-time or stay home to spend time with their children were compelled to work full-time in order to keep their benefits. Older Americans who were ready to retire kept working until they were eligible for Medicare. Workers who wanted to start small businesses chose not to do so, because it would be difficult to access health insurance for themselves and their employees. Women who wanted to work less to provide care for aging parents couldn’t, because they would lose their coverage.
By reforming the individual insurance market and guaranteeing access to quality, affordable health coverage, the ACA allows women and men to make decisions about work based on what’s best for them and their families, not out of fear of losing health insurance. Thanks to the ACA, you can’t be denied coverage based on a pre-existing condition or charged more because of your health status or gender. Moreover, all health plans must cover the care you need, when you need it, and financial help is available to make coverage more affordable.
While the ACA is, indeed, a health policy, it’s also a policy that offers badly needed support to working families. Moms can choose to work part-time to spend more time with their children. Older workers can choose to retire when they are ready. Entrepreneurs looking to start their own business don’t need to worry about access to health insurance. Caregivers can choose to work part-time to help aging parents. These are all good things for families, communities and for our country.
Every family faces unique challenges and every family deserves the ability to make adjustments in their work lives without worrying about health insurance. The ACA finally makes that possible. That’s something we should all celebrate.