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It is important to recognize individuals when they set aside their differences to solve a bigger problem, especially when it comes to health care.

Our Legislature accomplished that this session by passing an important bill to protect and expand Medicaid coverage in Montana. They did so through moderate but important improvements to work that they started in a previous session. It wasn’t easy, but they accomplished it and should be congratulated.

I hope, too, that it serves as a lesson and roadmap for how America should address our larger health care issues. Every American deserves access to affordable coverage and high-quality care. The difficult question is: How best do we accomplish that?

In the last administration, Congress passed and the president signed the Affordable Care Act, which made health care available to millions of Americans who previously had no access. The ACA is not perfect and not without criticism. But it was important progress that was the product of two years of stakeholder work. It created, among other things, a ban on the ability to exclude coverage based on pre-existing conditions. The ACA has seen setbacks since its passage, including efforts by the current administration to make it more difficult for people to sign up and get the insurance they need.

Some have suggested that the ACA should be abandoned, and that a government-run system is the answer. I disagree. What we need to do is build on the proven solutions contained in the ACA and make sure every American can have care and coverage. It means increasing outreach and enrollment; making it easier — not harder — for consumers to find a health care product that suits them. It means ensuring a competitive private market, employer-sponsored coverage and a publicly financed safety net. And it definitely means expanding consumer protections like the current ban on excluding people with pre-existing conditions.

A recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that while a majority of Americans initially say they favor a “Medicare for All” approach, that support declines significantly when asked more detailed questions about the potential consequences. Among Democrats, the survey found that most would rather see their party concentrate on improving and protecting the ACA rather than passing a government insurance system.

For all those reasons and others, our approach to providing affordable choices in health care as a country needs to be focused on protecting and improving the Affordable Care Act.

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Angela McLean is a former lieutenant governor of Montana and educator. She writes from Clancy. 

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