By Nancy Pelosi
Imagine being a parent whose child has a pre-existing condition like asthma or diabetes - a condition that drives medical bills through the roof and forces you to choose between paying the mortgage and paying for the next doctor's appointment.
Imagine being a college senior getting ready for graduation, looking forward to a successful career - but you cannot accept your dream job because it doesn't offer health insurance.
Imagine being a senior citizen who relies on Medicare for your health and economic security, but faces rising costs for preventive care and prescription drugs. Or a woman charged higher premiums than men for the same coverage. Or a worker locked in a dead-end job, unable to pursue your professional passion for fear of losing your health insurance.
For too long, these examples were not simply matters of imagination; they represented the reality faced by millions of Americans. But that all changed - for the better - with health insurance reform.
Already, children with pre-existing conditions can no longer be denied coverage, and 2.5 million young people have gained insurance by staying on their parents' health plans. More than 5 million seniors have saved $3.2 billion on prescription drugs, and 86 million Americans have received free preventive services such as checkups or cancer screenings. Insurance companies can no longer drop patients when they get sick, and 105 million Americans no longer face lifetime caps on care. And when fully implemented, 30 million more Americans will have health care coverage.
With women's health front and center in the political debate, we celebrate a law that puts women in charge of their own health decisions and, for the first time, gives women access to free, lifesaving preventive care services, like mammograms. Starting this summer, coverage will include other critical services, such as contraception. And when the Affordable Care Act takes full effect, no longer will being a woman be a pre-existing medical condition.
This law is about innovation - using information technology to cut down costs, delivering personalized care to every patient, investing in cutting-edge biomedical research and preventing diseases before they happen. It is about giving small businesses tax credits to help cover their employees. It is about slowing the growth of health costs and demanding insurers invest a large portion of premiums in patient care. It is about fighting waste and restoring transparency and accountability to the insurance industry.
To many Americans, these steps are commonsense reforms to a broken system. Yet at this moment, Republicans have proposed a budget that ends the Medicare guarantee, increases costs for seniors and repeals health reform.
With the Affordable Care Act, we are making progress for our nation, and we are upholding what the late Sen. Ted Kennedy called 'the character of our country.'
With health reform, our character has been strengthened by recognizing health care as a right for all, not a privilege for the few. And we will rebuild the pillars that have always kept our economy strong: small businesses, entrepreneurs and an all-inclusive and thriving middle class.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, serves as House Democratic leader in the 112th Congress.