A great day for America

Andy Stern Senior Fellow, Richman Center at Columbia University, and Former President of the SEIU
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I don’t usually feel joyous, or get teary-eyed, about a Politico Breaking News alert. Yet that was exactly my feeling this morning after learning of the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Affordable Care Act. As I savored the moment, I thought about all the janitors, nurses, home health, child care and nursing home workers who led the SEIU’s five-year campaign to win health care for every man, woman and child in America.

I thought of the many Americans who went to sleep last night fearful that, by morning, they would no longer have coverage for their children or the ability to receive treatment for a pre-existing illness. I thought about the 30 million-plus uninsured Americans who, many for the first time in their lives, are on the verge of accessing health care they can afford. And now these concerns are at least temporarily put to rest.

It was a bittersweet moment as well, remembering all the people who I met during the effort and the stories told of so many more who lost their lives due to a lack of coverage or because their insurance company refused to cover the cost of medical procedures. I thought of Larnice Sherrell Reed, an SEIU homecare worker in California who lost her husband to cancer in 2009, and was saddled with over $150,000 in medical bills because she lost her health care coverage when she stopped working to care for him. And I think of Melanie Shouse, a breast cancer victim who passed away in 2010, only two months before the passage of the ACA, whose insurance company denied her coverage for a potentially life-saving treatment. I remember meeting the individuals who marched in her memory that February from Philadelphia to Washington, and the demeanor of the marchers — sad, yet resolute in their desire to campaign for legislation that would make cases like Melanie’s a thing of the past.

And in that moment, I realized once again what a gigantic leap forward the passage of the ACA, Obamacare, was for so many Americans. I know many on the right are disappointed, and that the 2012 election will now re-litigate the issue. I also know that there is still much work to be done to control health care costs, modernize the system and bring the industry into the 21st century. But today’s decision validated that health care is now more available and secure for working Americans than ever before in history. Today individuals’ health care is protected by law, not the benevolence of insurance companies — and America is a better country for it. Let’s build on those values.

Andy Stern, the former president of the SEIU, is a presidential appointee on the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform and a senior fellow at the Richman Center at Columbia University.