PORTLAND — This week marks the second anniversary of the Affordable Care Act, a law that remains controversial. There are many aspects of the bill that are widely popular, such as making prescription drugs more affordable for seniors, expanding health insurance coverage for young adults, providing tax credits for small businesses and ending insurance company practices of denying care on the basis of pre-existing conditions and abruptly capping coverage for the sickest Americans.

But if members of Congress and opponents have their way next week at the Supreme Court, they will take benefits away from tens of millions of people.

As a fourth-year medical student about to embark on my own training to become a family physician, I see patients every week who have already benefited, or who will benefit, from the Affordable Care Act. I see patients who pay out of pocket to visit a doctor, only to report that they can’t take their chronic disease medications because they can’t afford them.

I talk to families who are concerned because loved ones are too sick to work, but who are too young to qualify for Medicare, leaving them at the mercy of our patchwork system. I watch people reject potentially life-saving treatments because their insurance company refuses to cover a particular condition for that person.

At this very moment, congressional Republicans and their allies in state capitals want to unravel the law that enforces the social responsibility of the insurance industry and provides stability and security for millions of Americans. They plan to pressure the Supreme Court to repeal the law and take us back to the days when the insurance industry was free to deny and drop coverage at will. Repealing the Affordable Care Act would have serious consequences for the American people, including my patients.

As of last year, there were as many as 19 million children in the U.S. who would be considered to have a pre-existing condition. If the Affordable Care Act is repealed, insurers will again be free to discriminate against these children, denying them the medications and services that they need.

The billions of dollars in tax credits for small businesses, fundamental to our economy, will no longer be available, ultimately jeopardizing the employees and owners who relied on that support for health care coverage. This would further exacerbate the striking decrease in employer-provided health insurance that we have seen since 2001, when 69.8 percent of Americans were covered through their employers. That number sank to 53.5 percent in 2010.

If the Affordable Care Act is repealed, more than 44 million Americans who have Medicare coverage may be denied critical free preventive care. These individuals may no longer receive even the most basic care, such as annual check-ups. Millions of seniors would be left to choose between paying higher drug costs or going without medicine, all because the discounted prescription drug coverage included in the law would no longer exist, cutting a critical lifeline for countless seniors. All of this would result in more hospitalizations, sicker patients, unnecessary suffering and death and, ultimately, higher costs.

Any young person finishing up school or attempting to enter the work force would no longer have the support needed from his or her family’s health care coverage. More than 2.5 million young adults could lose their insurance coverage.

These are not just facts and statistics, they are real people whose lives will be hurt if opponents of the Affordable Care Act are successful.

By opposing the new health care law and its benefits for the public, these opponents make it abundantly clear that insurance companies’ profit margins are more important than the health and well-being of our communities and families. The world would revert to one where insurance companies could once again deny you care because of pre-existing conditions or suddenly drop your policy if you contract an illness that is expensive to treat.

We simply cannot return to that world.

Regardless of political party, most Americans agree that the old system was not working. I do not think that anyone really wants to return to a time when one’s health coverage was completely at the mercy of an insurance company.

Instead of refighting the political battles of the past two years, the Supreme Court has the opportunity to finally put partisan squabbling to an end and move our health care reform forward, not backward. And I hope, for our country and for my patients, that they recognize the impact that health care access has on every single American.

– Special to the Press Herald