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Originally published Wednesday, May 2, 2012 at 4:36 PM

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The Affordable Care Act is health-care justice for all

In the Supreme Court deliberations over the Affordable Care Act, guest columnist Diane Sosne says it is critical not to lose sight of the essential issue: Health-care coverage saves lives.

Special to The Times

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THOSE of us in relatively secure jobs with good employer-provided health care are spectators to the current Supreme Court deliberations about the Affordable Care Act. For people who are uninsured or underinsured, their physical and emotional health and well-being hang on the outcome.

As a nurse, I'm worried that we're losing sight of a much more essential issue: health-care coverage saves lives.

People who have access to health insurance are healthier, live fuller lives and don't have to worry that an unplanned illness or accident could mean financial ruin.

The long-term benefits of health insurance have been proved by economic and medical research. For example, in 2011 the National Bureau of Economic Research published a major study on the experiences of two groups of low-income people in Oregon. One group had health insurance. The other did not.

People with insurance reported better mental and physical health. They were far more likely to get access to crucial procedures like mammograms. And they were less likely to be burdened with medical debt.

Because of the Affordable Care Act, we are on the verge of improving the lives of 30 million Americans by extending access to affordable health insurance.

If the court decides to block this law from moving forward, we should all be well aware that its opponents have no workable alternative that matches up to the challenge of helping the millions of people who don't have insurance gain access.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the proposal that House Republicans offered in response to President Obama's plan would have covered only 3 million Americans.

The Affordable Care Act was designed to make changes slowly and gradually. For some, it's moving too slowly. But the reality is that real, tangible improvements are already happening.

Children with asthma or cancer can no longer be denied care because they have a "pre-existing condition."

Young adults — a group hit particularly hard by our job crises and student-loan debt — have been able to keep coverage by remaining on their parents' plans until age 26.

Senior citizens have been able to keep more than $3 billion in their pockets because of new prescription discounts.

More than 54 million people no longer need to worry about a co-pay for preventive procedures like mammograms and immunizations.

Patients are no longer denied care because they've hit limits of benefits.

These reforms are under fierce attack. Corporate special interests are spending millions to try to undo them. After opponents failed to kill reform in Congress, a group of Republican state attorneys general, including our own Rob McKenna, took the fight to the Supreme Court.

We are making measurable steps torward improving patient safety and quality of care. This is not the time to dismantle or repeal this law.

I chose to become a nurse because I believe in health-care justice for all. I hope that nine Supreme Court justices do not abandon the 50 million children, working people and senior citizens overall who deserve health-care justice.

Diane Sosne, a registered nurse with a master of nursing degree, is president of the Service Employees International Union Healthcare 1199NW, representing more than 22,000 nurses and other health-care workers in Washington state.

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