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San Francisco Chronicle: Act makes health care a right - starting now

By Nancy Pelosi

For decades, Social Security and Medicare have stood as pillars of our families' health and economic security, as transformative initiatives in the lives of the American people. In our time, we have added a third pillar: the Affordable Care Act - to make health care a right, not a privilege, for all Americans.

This law, like its predecessors, honors the vow of our founders, of the guarantee in our Declaration of Independence to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Indeed, the Affordable Care Act enables and empowers Americans to lead healthy lives, with the liberty to pursue their happiness, to follow their passions, no longer job-locked by their health insurance policy.

Health care reform is necessary to bring down costs, expand access to quality care, protect middle-class consumers and hold insurance companies accountable.

This landmark measure puts families and small business owners in control of their own care, strengthens Medicare, lowers the cost of prescription drugs, and ensures that young people can stay on their parents' health plan through their 26th birthday. With this law, being a woman will no longer be a pre-existing medical condition.

I'm very proud that California is leading the way in making the Affordable Care Act work for our families. Starting today, uninsured Americans in San Francisco and across our state will gain access to California's new health insurance marketplace, Covered California. Covered California makes it easy for uninsured individuals and small businesses to shop for, compare and purchase health insurance. It's your health, made simple.

If you are looking for coverage, Covered California's plans are designed to fit your needs and your budget. As a San Franciscan, you may select your private plan from among brand-name insurance providers: Kaiser Permanente, Chinese Community Health Plan, Blue Shield Health Net and Anthem.

If you are on Medicare, you will simply keep your current coverage. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, we strengthened the financial stability of Medicare. We are closing the Medicare Part D "doughnut hole" coverage gap, ensuring that many seniors will not be forced to pay substantial out-of-pocket costs. More than 5,900 seniors in our city have received prescription drug discounts worth $8.9 million, an average discount of $770 per person in 2012.

If you are on Healthy San Francisco, you will receive even more comprehensive care with the health insurance provided under Covered California or Medi-Cal. Your Healthy SF application assister will help you choose the right health insurance coverage for you and your family.

If you own a small business, it is completely optional for you to choose to offer employee coverage. Under the Affordable Care Act, 96 percent of businesses are exempted. If you choose to participate, offering affordable health coverage to your employees will be easier through the Small Business Health Options Program. Your business may qualify for a small business tax credit covering up to half of your premium costs for covering your employees.

Thanks to the law, thousands of San Franciscans already are seeing more protections and lower health care costs, including free preventive services such as diabetes and cancer screening. Happily, with the opening of Covered California, the best is yet to come.

It's your health, made simple.

Get covered

Go to www.coveredca.com

Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, has represented San Francisco in Congress for 26 years.