By Peter V. Lee
I grew up in Pasadena, and every New Year’s Day meant one thing to me and my family: the Rose Parade. This year I will be home again, up at 6 a.m. at the Tournament House, to join the festivities and spread the word about Covered California. Fittingly, the theme of this year’s Rose Parade is “Dreams Come True.”
Dreams will come true for hundreds of thousands of Californians this year. On January 1, they will get access to something they’ve never had before, quality and affordable health care. It’s a historic day when the Affordable Care Act becomes reality for California and the rest of the nation.
Starting today, America is taking care of its citizens in a way that we have never seen before. The Affordable Care Act represents the biggest overhaul to our health care system since Medicare and Medicaid almost 50 years ago. As I’ve said many times before, it’s a day when health care becomes a right and not a privilege in our country.
For the first time, insurance companies are covering everyone eligible, even if they have a pre-existing condition, and they will no longer be allowed to cancel your policy if you get sick.
All insurance plans are now offering a comprehensive set of essential health benefits, including doctor visits, preventive care, hospitalizations and prescriptions. Plus, they will no longer have lifetime or yearly caps on coverage.
And the Affordable Care Act helps bring quality health care within the reach of millions who were previously left out, by providing them with the financial help they need to cover themselves and their families.
In some parts of the country, the Affordable Care Act has continued to be a political football, and, sadly, the people harmed by the continued efforts to undercut and impede the implementation of the law are those who need care and can benefit the most.
Here in California, however, we’ve taken a different path. I’m often asked, “Why are things working so well in California?” Well, as we go into the new year with the new potential benefits of health coverage for millions, I wanted to provide the shorthand answer: It’s all about people coming together to do the right thing.
Let me note that as pleased as we are with our progress in California — progress that is marked by more than 400,000 enrolling directly through Covered California, many more signing up directly with health plans and many hundreds of thousands enrolling in Medi-Cal — we know that the road has been bumpy, with challenges for some consumers that we know are likely to continue in the weeks and months to come as we move from coverage to actually providing care. But those bumps along the way are inevitable when launching a new program this large and complex.
We in California have started this new era of coverage and quality care in ways that show the promise of what we can deliver, even with those bumps, for a number of reasons. While things are not perfect, the reason that we’ve started out strong runs through every element of our success: people in California who have invested time, passion and commitment to making this work. They include:
· Gov. Jerry Brown and the California Legislature, which decided to use the Affordable Care Act’s provision and expand Medi-Cal. They have continued their efforts to get the word out.
· The public workers who are part of Covered California, the California Department of Health Care Services, the regulators at the Department of Managed Health Care and Department of Insurance, and other parts of the state. Public servants like David Maxwell-Jolly, who is retiring after helping launch our CoveredCA.com website on time and on budget.
· The leadership and staff of California’s counties who are on the front lines of coverage expansion.
· The private-sector partners — the insurance agents, chambers of commerce, health insurance companies, technology firms, marketing and communications companies, leaders from the entertainment industry and social media, and many others — that have truly been partners in making this effort succeed.
· The consumer, union and advocacy organizations — many of whom have been working for decades on the policies to promote universal coverage who have now turned their attention to implementing the Affordable Care Act right.
· The community-based organizations and philanthropic groups that have donated time and money to spread the word.
· The doctors, nurses, community clinics, medical groups and hospitals that have led not only on the enrollment and education front, but also on our focus on the next step — ensuring that all those who enroll get needed care.
The list is long, and it is impossible to name all of those who have and are making Covered California and the Affordable Care Act deliver on the promise of this year’s Rose Parade theme of making “Dreams Come True.” But the most important individuals are the consumers and patients in every community of California — individuals who are taking to heart the “Tell a Friend — Get Covered campaign that we are leading. They are getting coverage and reaching out to their friends and families.
I look back on 2013 with deep gratitude for the thousands who have brought us to this moment in history. I look ahead to 2014 knowing there will be challenges, but comforted in knowing that California is on right side of history as we keep our eyes on the prize of ensuring quality, affordable health care is available to all of our residents.