12:34 PM Eastern - Saturday, May 12, 2012

For Nurses, The Affordable Care Act is a Lifeline #the-healthcare-law

Thumbnail image for CarlingForAmerica.jpgThe celebration of National Nurses Week provides nurses everywhere with the opportunity to reflect on our profession, our patients, and what it will take to truly improve the health of our country.

As a registered nurse for over 25 years, I have seen the demands of the profession evolve as technology and the needs of our patients have evolved, but what remains unchanged is the commitment that nurses on the front lines of care have to stand up for their patients.

It's been more than two years since the Affordable Care Act became law. But since its passage, extremist voices have focused on fighting the same old political fights again and again, rather than focusing on the benefits the law provides to patients and its vision for the future of care in this country.

I hear a lot of myths and distortions about the healthcare law. What I don't hear addressed in these conversations is how we will we care for the 129 million Americans who are routinely denied care by the health insurance industry due to a pre-existing condition. Or how we will cover the more than 32 million Americans who are working, but simply cannot afford the skyrocketing costs of healthcare coverage. If we are going to create a healthier country, we need to deal in the facts.

Over the years in hospitals, clinics and emergency rooms we would routinely see patients delaying care because of the cost. This meant we often had to provide many hours of "reactive care" instead of "proactive care." But, the law's emphasis on preventive care is helping change that--this year, 54 million Americans have access to a range of preventive services at no additional cost.

RN Nadine White knows what kind of difference this can make:

"I work in the labor and delivery department at my hospital. Prenatal care and testing are so important. But some women just can't afford it--or even afford co-payments of $20-40. I've seen too many pregnant women who've been faced with the choice of whether to pay for a medical test or put food on the table for their children at home. And they don't get the tests. Now, with the Affordable Care Act, more women will be able to get the care they need."

- Nadine White is a labor and delivery nurse and member of 1199SEIU Florida.

For nurses, the Affordable Care Act is a lifeline. The law puts the power to manage better care in the hands of the nurses, doctors, and healthcare workers that actually deliver care. One example is the Community Transformation Grant awarded to Kern County, California to actively address chronic disease and obesity:

"Our Community Transformation Grant, 'Call to Action,' aims for system and environment change so that the healthy choice is the easy choice--through healthy food and healthy living, tobacco cessation and high quality clinical services. Kern County is the worst in California for obesity rates and deaths due to diabetes and cardiac disease, and we also have poor air quality. Our citizens now have the opportunity and support to make healthy choices. A healthy Kern County is a prosperous Kern County."

- Carmen Morales-Board is a nurse practitioner, certified diabetes educator, and member of SEIU Local 521.

Every nurse has seen the stress and heartache that sick patients and their families endured when they hit their insurance plan's annual or lifetime limit. The law has already brought relief to sick patients by eliminating lifetime limits, and annual limits will be eliminated by 2014. This is literally life-saving news to Kim Klinger's patients:

"One of the last things a person with cancer needs is more stress. But I've seen that happen again and again when my patients learn that their health insurance plan has a 'cap' on the amount of care the plan will pay for. And the often hit that cap while getting the cancer treatment they need to survive. Families have been bankrupted just by trying to get well. Thanks to the new law, no cancer patient--or anyone with a serious illness--will be faced with this kind of death sentence again."

- Kim Klinger is a med-surg oncology nurse and member of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania.

These are real benefits in effect now, and yet we know that roughly 1 out of 2 Americans don't know these facts. That's why nurses across the country are reaching out to patients this Nurses Week to give them these simple facts that could improve their health, if not save their lives.

This week, we also have our eyes on the demands that caring for 32 million more Americans will place on our healthcare system. We are also looking at the wave of baby boomers who will drive a transformation in our long term care system. These parallel events will mean not just training more than one million nurses, but rethinking how we educate and retain a robust nursing workforce.

For those who continue to play politics with health of Americans, or seek to take away the benefits of the law, nurses ask them to think about the care we seek to deliver every day, the good jobs that the healthcare sector will generate, and the communities that this law will help. That's not empty rhetoric. Those are facts.

Visit www.seiu.org/nurses for more about Nurses Week.

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