Column: Health care was also on the ballot, and health care won

December 22, 2022 6:23 am

Joe DiSano photo

In November, millions of voters in red, blue and purple states voted on the future of our health care directly on the ballot. And U.S. Sen. Warnock ran his re-election campaign and run-off on health care. Health care won decisively.

Voters decided to expand Medicaid in South Dakota, meaning more than 40,000 low-income South Dakotans will finally have the health care they should have had years ago. More than 17 million Americans have gained health coverage as a result of Medicaid expansion, part of the Affordable Care Act that became optional as a result of a 2012 Supreme Court decision. Every time expansion of health care through Medicaid is on the ballot, health care wins.

In Arizona, the voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 209, the Predatory Debt Collection Act, with a whopping 72% approval. This measure will protect Arizonans from predatory debt collection, including families suffering from medical debt.

Voters in states as varied as Michigan, Vermont, California, Kentucky and Montana supported abortion rights. In Michigan, Vermont and California, voters approved ballot measure enshrining abortion rights into their state constitutions. In Kentucky and Montana, voters rejected initiatives to restrict access to reproductive health care.

And in Oregon, Measure 111 passed. Voters there made Oregon the first state in the nation to guarantee affordable health care as a constitutional right, which now the state legislature needs to deliver on.

Health care was on the ballot across the country, and the results are clear: Americans want affordable, accessible health care.

This issue is personal for me, because I’ve been on the front lines fighting for my health care and for the health care of 135 million Americans with pre-existing conditions like me. I was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer in 2017. The day after my first chemotherapy treatment, Republicans in the U.S. House voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act — the insurance paying for the treatments I needed to survive. But health care voters fought to defend the Affordable Care Act from a Congress and president determined to repeal it. We won.

And in the past couple years, health care voters have finally seen progress from Congress: With the American Rescue Plan making health insurance more affordable than ever, and the Inflation Reduction Act lowering prescription drug costs for seniors and allowing Medicare at long last to negotiate drug prices. Yet already those gains are under attack.

Whether voting to expand health insurance through Medicaid, protect families from medical debt, preserve the right to reproductive freedom, or guarantee health care as a human right, Americans showed up and made their priorities known. Health care is a winning issue, no matter the state or political party of the voter.

Voters in South Dakota and elsewhere also demonstrated that state legislatures are blocking overwhelmingly popular legislation. It’s time for representatives in the remaining eleven hold-out states to do their jobs and represent the interests of their constituents by finally expanding Medicaid so low income Americans can get health care too.

It’s also time for Congress to get on board and work to expand lower drug prices to all, instead of threatening to take away what gains on affordable prescription drugs we made through the Inflation Reduction Act.

And once again, we are reminded that the majority of Americans support affordable, legal and accessible abortion access. Abortion is health care. We must continue to advocate for reproductive freedom and show our elected officials that their restrictions on our bodies are unwarranted and unwelcome.

Our fight for affordable, accessible health care continues. There’s so much more to do, from tackling prescription drug costs for the rest of us not on Medicare, to ensuring lower health insurance costs to ensure everyone can get access to care.

Voters want health care. Listen up, elected officials.

This commentary was first published at Common Dreams. 

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Laura Packard
Laura Packard

Laura Packard is a stage 4 cancer survivor, founder of Voices of Health Care, co-chair of the Health Care Voter campaign, and a small business owner based in Denver. A former Michigander, she has worked on campaigns in several states, including in Arkansas in 2009-10 to help get the Affordable Care Act passed in the first place.