To truly honor the ACA’s birthday, California should pass universal health care
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When the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) Medicaid expansion went into effect, Esperanza Lopez was able to access affordable health care for the first time in her life. At the time, Lopez was 51 years old and legally blind, having lost her eyesight to diabetes in her 40s after being unable to afford a doctor. She also had a foot infection which was spreading to her bone-- and if the Medicaid expansion had come any later, she would have required amputation.

On Lopez’s first visit to our clinic in 2012, we enrolled her in Medicaid in order to give her free diabetes medication to bring her blood sugar levels under control. We also set her up with a podiatrist who provided wound care and treated her with antibiotics, and referred her to a surgeon to try to restore her sight.


Today, Lopez can see again, her foot has been saved, and she is back to working full time at a garment factory. Her story is incredible, and the hero is obvious-- none of this would have been possible without the expansion of Medicaid.

Right now, around 40 percent of undocumented people remain uninsured in California-- despite the fact that undocumented immigrants contribute around $11.74 billion annually in taxes, helping fund vital health programs such as Medicaid. In order to continue protecting and empowering our most vulnerable neighbors, it’s now more critical than ever for California to send a strong message about our values and priorities by enacting universal health coverage.

It’s clear that health care is a major concern for people across the country. Democrat Conor Lamb unexpectedly won Pennsylvania’s recent special election, in large part due to his pro-ACA stance in a race where health care was a top issue for 52 percent of voters. Health care has consistently made it into the top four issues facing our country right now, with the majority of Americans continuing to believe that the federal government should ensure health care coverage for all.

The numbers in support of universal coverage are even higher in California, with two-thirds of Californians expressing support for the idea. Universal health coverage would mean expanding Medi-Cal to undocumented adults, as well as increasing subsidies for low to middle income families and individuals purchasing insurance through the Covered California exchange. Through a basic expansion of Medi-Cal, every single Californian would have the opportunity to become covered. California now has the unique opportunity to act as a model for the nation, showing other states what is possible when we truly come together to protect the wellbeing of our people.

While universal health care legislation has recently been introduced into California’s state legislature, it must pass through committee and both houses of the legislature before being signed into law by the governor. In some of my recent meetings with legislative leadership, I was assured that both houses of the legislature could work together to produce a universal coverage package. But what the past year has shown is that when citizens stand together, we have the power to make elected officials treat certain issues, such as health care, more urgently than they would without our voices. That’s why we, the people, must be ever-vigilant in holding the feet of our elected officials to the fire in order to turn their promises into reality. We must continue mobilizing thousands of Californians from every walk of life to stand up and demand health care for all.

St. John’s Well Child and Family Center has spent years bolstering the ACA’s impact on the ground by enrolling tens of thousands of patients in health care plans, expanding and opening new health center sites, offering more services, continuing to increase the number of patients served, and, finally, fighting relentlessly to preserve our gains as Republicans and Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump mocks Murkowski, Cheney election chances Race debate grips Congress US reentry to Paris agreement adds momentum to cities' sustainability efforts MORE attempted to take them away. Through all of this work, the most important lesson we’ve learned is that victory cannot be achieved if we don’t fight together.

We’ve seen firsthand that access to health care is a catalyst for social, racial and economic justice through the many people like Esperanza Lopez who came to us with exacerbated health conditions and chronic illnesses, and were able to build thriving lives for themselves after finally getting the care they so desperately needed. It’s not just about being able to treat our bodies-- affordable health care allows people to hold full-time jobs, provide for their families, and become more invested in their communities. Lopez was lucky to finally get the health care she deserved before it was too late. It’s now time to extend that opportunity to the thousands of undocumented and low-income Californians who still live on the margins of our health care system.

To fully honor the anniversary of the ACA being signed into law, I encourage everyone, especially my fellow Californians, to call their representatives and ask them to introduce or support universal health care legislation. After all, this is our country, and it’s time we take it into our own hands by saying, loudly and clearly, that every single person living here has a fundamental human right to health care-- regardless of citizenship status or ability to pay.

Jim Mangia is president and CEO of St. John's Well Child and Family Center.