For some in Congress, the fourth anniversary of the signing of the Affordable Care Act on Sunday marks yet another moment to continue to try to repeal it, or at least to debate it and its merits. In California, at least, the occasion is an opportunity to celebrate, as more of the law's health coverage options and benefits become tangible.
Just in California, millions are enjoying new coverage or new financial help to better afford it.
Our state health insurance marketplace, Covered California, announced this week that more than 1 million Californians have now selected a new health plan through their online portal or with an enrollment counselor over the phone or in person.
These impressive numbers are leading the nation, but the work isn't done: California should maximize the benefits of the new law.
We have almost two weeks to sign people up for coverage, so they don't live sicker, die younger, and end up one emergency away from financial ruin.
Until March 31, Californians can sign people up so our state doesn't leave money in Washington D.C. that could be coming into our health system, our community, and our economy.
But as much as we acknowledge the benefits, the fourth anniversary of the law should not just be celebration, but a recommitment to fulfill the promise of the law.
We need to continue to improve the experience of signing up for coverage, we need to ensure that patients have strong patient protections in dealing with their insurer, and we need to continue to extend coverage and financial help for those whom the ACA doesn't provide enough help.
In California, the policy debate is thankfully not about repealing or replacing the ACA, but taking these next steps, through bills, ballot measures, and budget items.
California can continue to lead the nation in several ways: one bill would extend coverage to the remaining uninsured by providing the same help to all Californians regardless of immigration status; another would provide more vigilant oversight over insurers to ensure they provide timely access to adequate networks of doctors and providers.
There are several continued efforts to reduce costs and improve quality, including making health costs more transparent. Voters will have their say, with a ballot measure to regulate health insurance rates, and another pending to cap hospital charges that go well beyond the cost of providing care.
We should see four years of the ACA not as the end, but the beginning for California to do more. We have made huge progress in improving our health system, and rather than debate going backwards, California should continue the efforts to move forward.
Anthony Wright is the executive director of Health Access California, the state health care consumer advocacy coalition.