Less than 24 hours after the Health Insurance Marketplace Open enrollment started, over 2.8 million people visited the federal website HealthCare.gov to enroll. Websites crashed from exceeded bandwidth limits and anxious Americans reverted to good ole’ fashioned postal mail. People across the United States are now scrambling to choose a plan before March, 2014.

In all the noise and confusion surrounding the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the government shutdown, it is important not to lose sight of how the law will positively benefit low income people across the nation. There are three prizes we must keep our eyes on:

  1. The Affordable Care Act is going to provide insurance 48 million people who literally never had it. At the heart of Living Cities mission is improving the lives of low-income people. Many low-income earners in our cities now qualify for either heavy subsidies for premiums or no cost at all. While health care is not the only thing people need, similar to affordable housing, access to health benefits is an anchor to stabilizing people lives and enabling them to a better outcome. The transformational reality of 15.4% of the population now having access to health care cannot be taken for granted.

  2. With the expansion of coverage to millions more people, there will be an increased number of health sector jobs and demand for skilled health sector employees. The influx of people now seeking care and administrative support along the way will create much needed health care jobs for low and middle skill workers. “Over the next five years, the Affordable Care Act will provide $11 billion in funding for the operation, expansion and construction of community health centers across the country ( Department of Health and Human Services).” This money will go toward the expansion of community health centers to include demand for physicians, nurses, and administrative staff, and at insurance companies who will see an uptake in enrolling more members. This only heightens the urgency to address the jobs/skills mismatch our workforce is facing where people simply don’t have the skills required for today’s jobs.

  3. Health insurance coverage will strengthen the financial condition and security of millions of low-income Americans. Today, the average uninsured household has no net assets. Without sufficient income or assets to pay their medical bills, uninsured individuals often see their debts accumulate while their credit ratings are compromised. Medical debts currently contribute to almost half of all bankruptcies in the United States.

The ACA is complicated and disruptive for many people and institutions. It has its warts but it also has the capacity to transform 40 million American lives in the short term and for decades to come.