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Peter’s Blog: The Arc Bends Toward Justice

Every day, I think about the historic nature of change that Covered California is a part of, how it does not take place overnight and how it is the product of the work of thousands of people in California and across the nation.

During his historic march to Selma, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” King’s quote is now sewn into a rug in the White House’s Oval Office and refers to the fact that while struggle for justice may be trying, over time we are indeed making a more just country.

The Affordable Care Act and the thousands working across the nation to make sure everyone eligible gets affordable health care are part of our march to making a more just America. Today, I want to share a personal story that, in many ways, captures the spirit of King’s quote and puts what we are doing together to expand health care access across California and the nation in broader context. It is a story about the journey to justice. It is a story that we can all celebrate.

Betty Reid Soskin — Courtesy: National Park Service
Betty Reid Soskin is 94 years old and the oldest national park ranger in our nation. The reason this story is personal to me is that I had the privilege of meeting Betty years ago when my sister, Martha, ran the Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Historic Park in Richmond, California. Martha later accompanied Betty to the Capitol Mall to witness President Barack Obama’s first inauguration in 2009. During the swearing-in of our first African-American president, Betty carried with her a picture of her great-grandmother, a former slave.

Betty was 20 years old when World War II started, at a time when African-Americans and women regularly suffered from injustice in the United States. She remembers growing up as a child and drinking from water fountains marked “colored.” During the war she could not work as a riveter, building new planes and ships for our troops, because that work was not open to her. Instead, she did what she could and supported the war effort on the home front by working as a file clerk for an all-black auxiliary of a segregated boilermakers union.

Betty did not let discrimination stop her. She eventually became a prominent community activist and played a key role in the planning and developing of the Rosie the Riveter park where she now works, a park that honors the role that women of all races played during the war effort. The National Park Service hired Betty when she was 85 years old, so she could share her unique perspective with thousands of visitors every year.

Courtesy: National Park Service
Last Thursday, Betty’s journey to justice took another step when she carried that picture of her great-grandmother again, while introducing President Obama during the National Christmas Tree lighting ceremony in Washington, D.C. Again, my sister Martha accompanied her — now in her capacity as acting director of the Western Region of the National Park Service.

Today, across California and the nation, there are thousands of people on the "home front" working to bring justice to their communities by enrolling people in Covered California, Medi-Cal or the options available in their state. Covered California and the Affordable Care Act are bringing equality to health care. No longer are people refused health insurance because they have a pre-existing condition. No longer do they risk their coverage being canceled on a whim. Health care is finally a right in this country, and not a privilege only for those who can afford coverage.

In many ways, we are continuing a battle that Betty has been fighting all her life.

Covered California is in the midst of its open-enrollment period, and this is the opportunity for the uninsured to get the health care coverage they deserve. Although open enrollment runs through Jan. 31, 2016, consumers must enroll by Dec. 15, 2015, if they want their coverage to begin on Jan. 1.

King’s quote is full of hope, but it is also a call to action. The arc of history bends to justice because of the work people like Betty have performed over the decades, as well as the thousands of advocates, insurance agents and activists who are helping make sure we leave no one behind.

As we work every day to expand health care coverage to all Americans, we do well to pause to remember to celebrate those like Betty who have made our work possible and know that the product of our work will span years and decades.

Courtesy: National Park Service
Many thanks to each of you for the work you do, and just as Betty helped the president light the National Christmas Tree in Washington, D.C., to celebrate the best of our nation getting better, I hope you find the chance to celebrate your contributions and your local heroes in the days and weeks ahead.

If you know someone who is uninsured, I encourage you to tell them about Tell them to click on the “Find Local Help to Enroll” button to find the nearest certified enroller or insurance agent who can help them choose the plan that is best for them and their family. Tell them to click on the “Shop and Compare Tool” to get an estimate of how affordable a health insurance plan can be and to find out whether they qualify for financial assistance to help pay for their premiums.

This is a time when we can fulfill the dreams of justice and equality that so many worked for before us.