Bernita Jackson, 51, has her blood pressure measured at an event to inform people about the Affordable Care Act and donate turkeys to 5,000 needy families, in Los Angeles, Calif on Nov. 25, 2013.
Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Why I’m Thankful for the ACA–and the debate its spurred


Over the past year I have spent many days and weeks with family in hospital wards and clinics. I have seen patients struggling with unbearable illness. I have seen doctors and nurses overburdened with an extraordinary and emotional workload. I have seen the good and bad sides of a health care system.

And I am thankful for it all. For the spirit and the values of those hospitalized. For the care and the science that makes health care work. For the fundamentals of family and life.

And yes, I am thankful we are having this long and heated debate about health care coverage for every family in this country.

This debate goes so far beyond the frustrating question about why it’s so hard to launch a website. (I am also thankful that we launched this website successfully.)

Long after the federal website is fixed, millions of Americans will be able to visit a doctor or go to the hospital without fear of bankruptcy. From the expansion of Medicaid benefits, to the greater level of subsidies for insurance premiums, this is no small measure of progress.

It is a statement of our values as a community. When we are in the hospital, our lives have equal value—and deserve equal care—no matter how rich or poor we are.

The hospital wards I have come to know in detail in recent months are in England: part of the socialized National Health Service that conservatives at home love to despise. Despite the fear-mongering and smears, the level of expensive care for elderly patients with complex illnesses is no different from the level of care in this country. There are no death panels at work.

It’s worth remembering why, at this time of year, elected leaders took the courageous step of creating a Medicare, or an NHS, or the Affordable Care Act.

The NHS grew out of the shared national suffering of World War II. It was no coincidence that Presidents Roosevelt and Truman tried and failed, in the same period, to extend medical benefits to Social Security. Medicare and Medicaid grew out of their efforts.

After more than a decade of wars—when the burden of conflict has been carried by a small fraction of this country—voters have repeatedly told pollsters and candidates they want a greater sense of national unity. That is what President Obama promised in 2008 and 2012, and that is what the Affordable Care Act promises to deliver in health care.

Thanksgiving is a time for us to share our good fortune with our families and communities. This year, it’s also a time when the good fortune of health care is being shared across the country for the first time for many families.

No matter what happens to a website, and no matter what happens to the political fight about health care, that is something we can all be thankful for.