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Healthcare Ruling is Good News for Parents

Sharon Lerner

Let’s call today family day, since all families should be rejoicing about the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold Obama’s health care law. I know I am. The law increases coverage for more than 30 million uninsured Americans, including children who were legally denied because they had preexisting conditions. It provides billions of dollars of prescription drug benefits for seniors. It ends lifetime limits on coverage. And it lets us keep our adult kids on our insurance plans til they’re 26.

The only hitch seems to be that the court gave states some wiggle room to not expand their Medicaid programs, which the law had said should include people with incomes up to 133 percent of the poverty level. We’ll undoubtedly soon see what that will mean for low-income families.

Still, to every American who has, is or was a child: congratulations!

But as we’re breathing a collective sigh of relief (and Republicans are vowing to repeal), we also need to be thinking about why the challenge to this major, common sensical advance happened in the first place. And, for that, I invoke the New Hampshire license plate.

A few days before the health care decision (or BHCD, as I’ve come to think of it), my six-year-old son, Sam, spotted this relatively rare (for us New Yorkers) plate. This has been the season of learning about state mottos in our family and he was pleased, if puzzled, to encounter a new one. “Live free or die,” he read aloud from the car in front of ours. “What does that mean?”

I took the opportunity of his being strapped into captivity to prattle on a bit about early America. I want to give my kids a sense of our country’s complicated history and began explaining that some colonists felt so passionately about getting independence from England they were willing to go to war. Though Sam soon glazed over and moved on to counting mini Coopers, I found myself stewing over this bit of righteous license plate rhetoric, and what it had to do with challenge to health care.

For me, the support of the health law is a no-brainer mostly because it’ll leave more families without health care. I’ve thought and written about what happens to uninsured people for years. I know that some 45,000 deaths a year can be attributed to a lack of health coverage. While that can seem an unfathomable number, I know it represents actual humans. Since I was a kid, my mother, a pediatric nurse who works in some of our city’s poorest neighborhoods, has regaled me with stories of her patients going without treatments because their families can’t afford them.

I also know that mothers are more likely to be uninsured than either women without children or men. This is largely because private health insurance is tied to full-time employment, a fact that not only leaves mothers and often their children in medically risky limbo but also affects how we work. Sixty-two percent of mothers with children at home who work full-time would prefer part-time work and many of them don’t because reducing their hours would mean losing their–and often their children’s–health benefits.

In my ideal world, we would have a single-payer health system, so health care could be de-linked from jobs, everyone would be covered and we wouldn’t be wasting more than $156 billion dollars of health care spending on insurance costs.

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