Say "Obamacare" and you quickly hear mixed reactions. Some people love it. Others hate it. Others are unsure or just plain confused.
As a health care insurance broker who works daily with the new health care law, it's clear to me that the Affordable Care Act is bringing a better quality of life to many in the Lowcountry.
Every day, the professionals at our agency feel lucky to play a small part in the inspiring stories of people whose lives are improving because they finally have comprehensive health care protection for the first time in a long while.
And for some, it's for the first time ever.
Just look to the experience of a local woman who recently turned 50. A single mother with a young teenager, she's healthy but long has worried about how a family history of heart disease and diabetes could threaten her health and her child's future. This mother works hard to put food on the table and to provide a safe home, but could not afford to take care of her health care worries.
Because she has two low-wage, part-time jobs, she does not receive employer-provided health benefits, just like many working South Carolinians.
Looming in the back of her mind has always been the worry, "I am healthy now, but what if I get really sick or get into an accident?"
In the past, this mother prayed not to get sick. If she did, she went to a public health clinic, but didn't have a consistent relationship with a doctor who would focus on her wellness.
Thanks to Obamacare, this hard-working mother qualified to get a subsidy for health insurance, making it affordable for the first time. Now instead of worrying and praying not to get sick, this taxpayer is proud to have an insurance card for a plan that stresses preventive check-ups and wellness.
In fact, this client phoned after visiting a doctor for the first time using her new health insurance card. She was surprised to pay nothing. I reminded her the new law covers preventive visits, which are paid 100 percent by the insurance company.
What's happened with this client has been life-changing. Having a health insurance card provides her with dignity. She's not embarrassed to go see a doctor, as she was when she didn't have insurance or the means to pay her bill. She feels like she'll be provided the best possible care, which didn't always happen when she was uninsured.
This client's story has some parallels with that of a young father with three children who lost his health insurance when he was laid off.
He has a treatable physical condition that requires surgery. But without insurance, he can't get the operation. In a classic "Catch 22," he can't go back to work until he gets the surgery.
This man and his family now have insurance because they qualified for a tax credit under Obamacare.
One of the reasons he could get the insurance was that under the new law, insurance companies may no longer exclude coverage for pre-existing conditions, like many traditional health plans had. Just like the mother mentioned above, this man now has hope for a better future - all because of being able to get health care, which will allow him to get the surgery he needs and return to the workforce.
You may or may not like the politics of the Affordable Care Act and all the back-and-forth in Congress and in the media over the last few years.
But if you strip all of that away, Obamacare is making a difference in the lives of people across the Lowcountry through increased access to health care that improves everyone's quality of life.
And that's going to have a societal impact - just like Social Security did 80 years ago.
Marcia Alfaro, a lawyer who was a U.S. Senate legislative director before moving to Charleston, is principal of Visionary Insurance Advocates.
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