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Holding our nation hostage

George Gresham | 10/3/2013, 4:21 p.m.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA), also referred to as Obamacare, went through a tortuous journey before being passed by both houses of Congress and signed into law on March 23, 2010. On June 28, 2012, the Supreme Court upheld ACA’s constitutionality. The ACA is the law of the land.

Yet if you scan newspaper headlines or listen to sound bites on the news, you might get the impression that ACA is not a law that would provide health care to an additional 32 million Americans, but rather a diabolical plot by President Barack Obama to enslave the American people. Some legislators have dubbed it the “ACA Armageddon.” Others have called it the worst legislation in the history of the nation.

Bill O’Brien, a representative in New Hampshire’s state Legislature and former speaker of that state’s House, claims that the ACA is as destructive as the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act, which permitted slave holders to arrest and return runaway slaves who had escaped to free states.

Of course, ACA, which in its final version was weakened because it couldn’t be killed by tea party types and big money, doesn’t contain all that we had hoped for. Nevertheless, it represents a huge step forward for health care in our nation.

The ACA, when it is fully implemented, will make health care more affordable and accessible for millions of Americans, including 11 million on Jan. 1, 2014. In addition, health insurance companies can no longer refuse to sell or renew policies based upon health status or deny coverage for treatments based on pre-existing conditions. There will also be no more annual limits on the coverage a person can receive for essential health benefits.

The ACA will have an especially significant impact on health care-starved communities of color. Before the ACA’s passage, more than 19 million African-Americans had no health insurance. That number is expected to drop drastically. Likewise, an additional 9 million Latinos will receive insurance through the ACA.

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has found that the ACA will decrease our deficit and create jobs by reducing the costs of health care for employers, allowing them to expand their workforce. So why are congressional Republicans, goaded by right-wing extremists, willing to shut down the government and provoke an economic crisis? Hatred for Obama is one reason, but that doesn’t fully account for their venom. As usual, we must follow the money.

A slew of extremist organizations view the defunding of Obamacare as an essential step in defunding government. These extremists—in the service of corporate interests—seek a nation in which government has no say in corporations’ right to fill their coffers. In their universe, government has no responsibility to its citizens. To advance their goals, they have waged a vicious campaign, including disinformation to destroy Obamacare.

The Supreme Court’s 2008 Citizens United decision made it possible for these groups to raise money without disclosing the donors’ names and spend unlimited funds on attack ads and other forms of disinformation. Some of the donors are well-known. The billionaire Koch brothers’ American for Prosperity group has a long history of opposing health care reform and bankrolling privatization efforts, “Stand Your Ground” laws and other conservative causes. Other bankrollers are the Tea Party Express, the Senate Conservative PAC Fund, Freedom Works, Club for Growth, Heritage Action and the National Liberty Federation.

Interestingly, these groups are not aiming their fire at Democrats. Instead, they are going after any Republicans they consider not sufficiently conservative. Many of the targeted Republicans have caved, fearful of a challenge from far-right Republicans in next year’s primaries.

Assisting the far-right extremists are the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America and the National Association of Health Underwriters. They have filed suits against and put up obstacles to the ACA’s navigator program. Navigators are organizations authorized to spread the word about how to enroll in the ACA state health exchanges. Because navigators would make the brokers superfluous and eliminate the millions of dollars in brokers’ fees that inflate the cost of care, brokers have spent huge sums of money attacking the ACA and its navigators program.

Preserving the ACA continues our nation’s long journey to universal health care. Winning that fight would also strike a blow against those who would destroy our government and our democracy.