In March, New Hampshire preschool teacher Gail O'Brien, who was unable to obtain health insurance through her employer, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of lymphoma. Her subsequent applications for health insurance were rejected because of her condition. With each round of chemotherapy costing $16,000, she delayed treatment because she knew her savings wouldn't last.
Then President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act. Thanks to this law, O'Brien is getting treatment through a temporary program that provides affordable coverage to people who've been shut out of the insurance market because of a pre-existing condition. Even better, she knows that in 2014 insurers will be banned from discriminating against her or any American with pre-existing conditions.
That's what makes the recent lawsuits challenging the Affordable Care Act so troubling. Roughly 20 cases question the new law's individual responsibility provision, which says that Americans who can afford to must maintain basic health coverage.
Federal courts in Michigan and Virginia have upheld the law as constitutional, but Monday a federal court in Virginia reached the opposite result. These and other cases will continue through our courts as opponents try to block the law. But these attacks are wrong on the law, and if allowed to succeed, they would have devastating consequences for everyone with health insurance.
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The majority of Americans who have health insurance pay a higher price because of our broken system. Every insured family pays an average of $1,000 more a year in premiums to cover the care of those who have no insurance.
We have to stop imposing extra costs on people who carry insurance, and that means everyone who can afford coverage needs to carry minimum health coverage starting in 2014.
If we want to prevent insurers from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, it's essential that everyone has coverage. Imagine what would happen if everyone waited to buy car insurance until after he got in an accident. Premiums would skyrocket, coverage would be unaffordable, and responsible drivers would be priced out of the market.
The same is true for health insurance. Without an individual responsibility provision, controlling costs and ending discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions doesn't work.
The legal arguments made against the law gloss over this problem even as opponents have sought to invent new constitutional theories and dig up old ones that were rejected 80 years ago.
As these lawsuits continue, Americans should be clear about what the opponents of reform are asking the courts to do. Striking down the individual responsibility provision means slamming the door on millions of Americans who have pre-existing conditions and shifting more costs onto families who've acted responsibly.
Rather than fighting to undo the progress we've made, and returning to the days when 1 in 7 Americans was denied insurance because of medical history, supporters of repeal should work with us to implement this law effectively. The initial decisions about the Affordable Care Act will be reviewed on appeal. We are confident that the law ultimately will be upheld.