Opinion Pieces

Republicans should abandon AHCA, work with Dems to improve ACA

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Washington, May 12, 2017 | comments
The U.S. Senate should scrap the outrageous American Health Care Act (AHCA) bill passed by the House and work with Democrats and anyone who cares about keeping their neighbors' healthcare coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and expanding that coverage. I urge my colleagues to start by promoting competition in exchanges in areas of the country that need it and tackling the skyrocketing costs of drugs. These actions and cooperation could strengthen the ACA and expand healthcare coverage and the economic well-being of American families, instead of the drastic cuts in coverage under the AHCA that will turn back the clock and leave millions of our neighbors to fend for themselves and their families.
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The U.S. Senate should scrap the outrageous American Health Care Act (AHCA) bill passed by the House and work with Democrats and anyone who cares about keeping their neighbors' healthcare coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and expanding that coverage.  I urge my colleagues to start by promoting competition in exchanges in areas of the country that need it and tackling the skyrocketing costs of drugs. These actions and cooperation could strengthen the ACA and expand healthcare coverage and the economic well-being of American families, instead of the drastic cuts in coverage under the AHCA that will turn back the clock and leave millions of our neighbors to fend for themselves and their families. 

Why? The AHCA rips coverage away from at least 24 million Americans, raises costs, imposes a huge Age Tax, steals from Medicare and socks it to Alzheimer’s patients, children with complex conditions and people with disabilities who rely on Medicaid. Contrary to the promises made that “pre-existing conditions” protections would remain, House Republicans reneged on this. Such a radical change to protections that Americans value goes farther than any ACA “repeal and replace” pledge. Americans are angry that House Republicans and President Trump are raising costs and ripping coverage away. They understand that they will suffer while the wealthy special interests will see huge benefits.

Families understand that the ACA is not perfect, but has been a huge improvement from the bad old days of hard-to-find and costly insurance. The ACA is especially vital to the vast majority of Americans who have employer-sponsored coverage – more than 150 million. The ACA provides vital consumer protections against discrimination for pre-existing conditions like cancer, diabetes, asthma and heart disease, which impact more than 133 million Americans. Insurance companies cannot cancel your policy if you get sick or impose lifetime limits or caps and “essential health benefits” ensure meaningful coverage. These consumer protections have been a godsend to our neighbors and yet the House Republican bill will eliminate them.

More than 20 million Americans are newly covered through the HealthCare.gov marketplace and the national rate of uninsured is at a historic low thanks to the ACA – from 16 percent in 2010 to less than 9 percent today. Americans took personal responsibility to get covered and the ACA provided the affordable options to do so. When more of our neighbors are covered, it helps contain costs for everyone. Every year, my home state of Florida has led in sign-ups under the HealthCare.govmarketplace.  In 2017, almost 1.7 million Floridians selected an affordable plan. Trump and Republicans are wrong to say that the ACA is imploding, but their sabotage is wreaking havoc and could lead to the demise of the HealthCare.gov marketplace and higher costs for all. What is the rationale for repeal when the marketplace has encouraged Americans to take personal responsibility, saved consumers money and provided vital consumer protections?

The ACA has generated significant savings for American families.  While we must do more to control the costs of premiums, the average premium increase for employer-sponsored insurance has been held in check.  American families saw their premiums increase at an annual rate of about only 5 percent since the ACA was implemented, as compared to 8 percent over the previous decade. As a result, the average family paid about $3,600 less in 2016 than it would have paid had the ACA not been enacted. (Medicare and Medicaid have enjoyed similar trends.) The ACA also requires health insurance companies to spend at least 80 percent of each premium dollar on healthcare, instead of administrative costs or profits, and if insurance companies take excess profits, consumers get a refund.  In fact, HHS reports that Americans with employer coverage have received $1 billion in refunds since 2012!

The AHCA also will harm our older neighbors who count on Medicare.  Medicare is stronger thanks to the ACA and our parents and grandparents have enjoyed enormous benefits. The ACA lengthened the life of the Medicare Trust Fund by more than a decade.  The ACA also is closing the prescription drug donut hole, and in 2015, nearly 5 million seniors across the country saved $5.2 billion on drugs, which averages to about $1,021 per person. The ACA also provides seniors with a free annual wellness visit and eliminates cost-sharing for recommended preventive services. In 2015 alone, more than 25 million seniors used at least one preventive service with no copay.  The ACA puts real money back into the pockets of our older neighbors.

Repealing the ACA and harming Medicare and Medicaid would kill private-sector jobs in every state across the country, according to a report released earlier this year by George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health. It states that about 2.6 million jobs could be lost nationwide in 2019, rising to almost 3 million by 2021. A study commissioned by the Federation of American Hospitals and the American Hospital Association estimates that total hospital revenue could drop by $400 billion nationally. In my home state of Florida, that would lead to substantial losses for our local hospitals which are some of our biggest employers.

Families who rely on nursing home care, have a family member with a disability, a child with a complex medical condition or a child from a working class family who needs basic care will be hurt by the AHCA. Nearly 72 million Americans are served by the vital federal-state Medicaid partnership. In a callous one-two punch, the Republican Congress pulled the rug out from under these families by slashing Medicaid dollars to states – guised under the more innocuous terms of “reform” and “flexibility.” Hogwash! Do not fall for their ruse.  Families who rely on skilled nursing and assisted living for loved ones with Alzheimer’s or a disability will be critically harmed.

It is irresponsible to rip coverage away, raise costs, impose a massive Age Tax, steal from Medicare and radically alter Medicaid.  We cannot allow the Congress and Trump to throw our economy into chaos and wreak havoc on our families. It is not too late, however, for us to come together and promote competition in areas of the country that need it, tackle the skyrocketing costs of drugs and strengthen the ACA. That’s what our neighbors are crying out for and what they deserve.

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