AUGUSTA — Over the past five years, tens of thousands of Mainers have sent a powerful message: The Affordable Care Act is working, and the quality health coverage offered on our health insurance marketplace is a product that consumers need, want and like. They also made it clear that they don’t want this coverage taken away.

Tammy O’Clair, an entrepreneur from Ashland, is one of them. Thanks to tax credits through the health insurance marketplace that made her health plan affordable, Tammy, who has diabetes, now has coverage for the first time in years.

When asked what having that coverage means to her, she said, “It’s just that you (don’t have) that burden laying on top of your shoulders, that you’ve got to pay for everything out of pocket. (Before this) I couldn’t go to the doctors, I couldn’t do what needed to be done, because we couldn’t afford it.”

Since President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act five years ago, 74,805 Mainers like Tammy selected plans or were automatically re-enrolled thorough the health insurance marketplace under the Affordable Care Act.

That means 74,805 people in Maine will no longer need to choose between undergoing a checkup and paying a household bill, or worry that an accident could plunge them into debt or, worse, bankruptcy.

These numbers represent real people in Maine whose lives have changed for the better: People like Tammy, whose health is at stake. She said, “If I didn’t have (this plan), I wouldn’t be getting my insulin.”

It’s not hard to figure out why Maine consumers were enthusiastic. The marketplace offers quality insurance plans – and the financial and health security that comes with coverage – at a price they can afford. Here in Maine, 89 percent of those who signed up on the marketplace as of Feb. 22 qualified, on average, for a tax credit of $332 per month and 65 percent paid $100 or less per month after tax credits.

Thousands of Mainers who already had insurance have seen their coverage improve because they now have access to preventive services like vaccines, cancer screenings and yearly wellness visits at no out-of-pocket cost. In addition, Americans cannot be denied or dropped from coverage because of a pre-existing condition or because they hit an annual or lifetime cap in benefits.

Nationwide, since the Affordable Care Act’s coverage expansion began, about 16.4 million uninsured people have gained health insurance coverage – the largest reduction in the uninsured in four decades. And Gallup recently announced that the uninsured rate in Maine in 2014 was 11.6 percent, down from 16.1 percent in 2013. But our work is not yet done.

Because of the Affordable Care Act, states can accept federal funds set aside to cover uninsured people with low income who do not otherwise qualify for Medicaid but don’t make enough money to get tax credits on the marketplace.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie recently acknowledged the tremendous savings expansion afforded his state’s Medicaid program: a savings of $150 million toward uncompensated charity care for the uninsured next year and a 43 percent drop in the number of uncompensated-care cases.

“Expanding Medicaid was the right decision for New Jersey,” said Christie, a Republican. “It’s helping to save us money. Our state taxpayers are seeing more federal dollars, and we’ve also added more people covered so they don’t go for their primary care in a hospital emergency room.”

Maine could realize the same kind of savings in our state budget. By closing the gap, we could provide health coverage for thousands of working Mainers and ensure a strategic use of taxpayer dollars.

For Mainers like Tammy, the impact of coverage is real. A recent Commonwealth Fund study found that the percentage of adults who had problems paying medical bills or were paying off medical debt declined for the first time in nearly a decade. This means more Mainers like Tammy have peace of mind and are better able to go to school or work and care for their families, leading to a healthier workforce and state.

The Affordable Care Act is not just about a new way to buy insurance; it’s about a health system that prioritizes access, affordability and quality for everyone. Today’s anniversary is an opportune time to celebrate the coverage gains Mainers have enjoyed so far. But we must also acknowledge the gap that remains. We can still help all Mainers realize the late Sen. Ted Kennedy’s dream that the ACA would “fulfill the promise of health care in America as a right and not a privilege.”