Recently, I was invited to attend a townhall on women’s health and the Affordable Care Act hosted by the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services.
Some of Washington’s most powerful women were present: Secretary Sebelius, Michelle Obama’s Chief of Staff, Tina Tchen, President Obama’s Senior Advisor and many other public health and policy officials. It was incredible to be in a pressroom with a panel of such empowered women, as well as women presscorp from various states, races and backgrounds.
It was immediately clear to me how important the Affordable Care Act is in terms of creating pathways for access to long overdue care for low-income Americans; specifically women of color and their larger communities. Without the cost cutting individual mandate, subsidies, community-centered exchanges, and culturally relevant navigators (as opposed to business men in suits) — the law would be ineffective in its effort to reduce the staggering health disparities that plague our nation.
However, hearing the questions and stories from women who represent advocacy groups or disenfranchised communities, another reality became apparent: we have a long way to go, and a lot more to fight for.
The Affordable Care Act cannot be seen as an end-all-be-all or a quick fix to our nation’s health crisis. Health care will still be expensive, people will still be uninsured or underinsured under this current law. Decades of racism and classism have created deep divides that impact communities well being across generations. If we are going to fight and strive for a healthier America than we need to address directly our deep seated racism and myth of meritocracy. We truly need to learn to place worth on every single American life. Health and peace of mind is not just for those who were born into the “right family” — but all people regardless of their social location.
We need to demand that businessmen and corporations do not put a price tag on life, quality of life or dictate our futures. If we wish to live out our nation’s founding values then we need to be honest with ourselves; we have left many behind, and we cannot diminish the lives of some if we hope to have a brighter future.
One thing was clear in the White House Press Room: We are the people we have been waiting for; let’s keep fighting until the health of all people in a right, not a privilege.
“When health is absent Wisdom cannot reveal itself, Art cannot become manifest, Strength cannot be executed, Wealth is useless, and Reason is powerless.” ~Herophilies
Abby Schanfield is Abby Schanfield is a student at the University of Minnesota and a leader with TakeAction Minnesota’s Together For Health Program. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, she can be insured through her parents until she is 26, and no longer has to worry about lifetime limits on healthcare or denials due to pre-existing conditions.