Democrats have run from health care ever since the Affordable Care Act passed in March 2010, fearful of being burned by a political firestorm. At the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte Tuesday night, they weren’t running.
The opening night of the convention featured an aggressive embrace of the party’s most consequential achievement in a generation, from an emotional clip package highlighting the benefits of the law for Americans with pre-existing conditions to speeches emphatically endorsing the bill that Republicans derisively dubbed “Obamacare.”
“For us Democrats, Obamacare is a badge of honor,” said Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of Health and Human Services. “No matter who you are, what stage of life you’re in, this law is a good thing.”
“Being a woman is no longer a pre-existing condition!” she said. “That’s what change looks like.”
Like other speakers, Sebelius touted the law’s positive features: guaranteeing coverage for those with illness, expanding seniors’ access to prescription drugs, making it easier for Americans 26 and under to obtain insurance and allowing women greater access to preventive services.
First Lady Michelle Obama said Obama prioritized the law because it was “the right thing to do.”
“Barack refused to listen to all those folks who told him to leave health reform for another day, another president,” she said. “He did it because he believes that here in American, our grandparents should be able to afford their medicine, our kids should be able to see a doctor when they’re sick, and no one in this country should ever go broke because of an accident or an illness.”
Tim Kaine, the former Virginia governor who’s locked in a tight race for the U.S. Senate, declared that President Obama “said he’d pass health care reform, and he did.”
A video featured during the convention — aiming to tell the stories behind the party’s platform — included a couple explaining how the health care reform law saved them from bankruptcy.
“Both of us, prior to the Affordable Care Act, had million-dollar lifetime limits on our policies,” said a narrator, discussing medical bills he and his wife had due to illnesses. “What the elimination of the lifetime caps did was save us from bankruptcy.”
“It was amazingly comforting because it meant that I could focus on getting better,” his wife said. “Right now I wouldn’t be talking without the Affordable Care Act.”
A video tribute to Ted Kennedy emphasized his fierce advocacy for universal health care.
A mother, Stacey Lihn, whose daughter was born with a congenital heart defect, described the comfort the law brings her — and warned not to take it for granted.
“Like so many moms with sick children, I shed tears and I could breathe easier knowing we have that net below us to catch us if we fall, or if, God forbid, Zoe needs a heart transplant — Obamacare provides my family security and relief,” Lihn said. “If Mitt Romney becomes president and Obamacare is repealed, there’s a good chance she’ll hit her lifetime cap.”
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.