Congress must team up, make ACA better: Rep. Nita Lowey

When Sen. John McCain walked onto the floor of the U.S. Senate and delivered a decisive thumbs-down on repealing parts of the Affordable Care Act, millions of Americans who depend on the law breathed a sigh of relief. In the wake of this significant, if not fatal, blow to Republican efforts to dismantle the ACA, we have the opportunity to do what we should have done all along — work together to make the ACA better.

The top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions have announced that in September their committee will begin bipartisan hearings on ways to improve the individual insurance market. I hope the House Republican Majority and President Trump will engage in similar efforts, starting with an end to the administration’s actions that are causing uncertainty in the health care market.

The president has threatened to withhold funding for cost-sharing reduction, or CSR payments. These subsidies from the federal government help low- and middle-income families — those Americans with incomes between 100 percent and 250 percent of the poverty level — afford coverage on the health exchanges. On average, these payments reduce out-of-pocket costs by approximately $1,100 per person. With the next CSR payments scheduled for Aug. 21, some 7 million Americans who rely on these plans are worried about whether they will be able to afford coverage in just weeks.

In addition, withholding cost-sharing reductions would also increase costs to taxpayers. With much higher premiums, tax credits to help families afford health coverage would spike by an estimated $2.3 billion in 2018 alone, according to Kaiser Family Foundation.

With the ACA, the federal government made a commitment that every American should have access to quality, affordable health coverage. While it’s not perfect, the ACA has helped cut the uninsured rate in New York nearly in half to 5 percent, a record low. It’s time for Congress to stop focusing on repealing the ACA, which would result in more than 2.7 million New Yorkers losing health care coverage, and figure out how to make its coverage even better and help the remaining uninsured afford coverage.

The House should follow the Senate’s lead and hold bipartisan hearings on ways to lower costs. For example, having a health insurance policy but not being able to afford the deductible is not acceptable. We should consider how to bring down high premiums and finally tackle prescription drug costs, which are a financial drain on millions of families, especially older Americans.

While more than 100 insurance options are available for residents of Westchester and Rockland counties, in some parts of the country, there are few plans to choose from, and occasionally only one. Increased participation and competition among insurers and better access to primary care remain challenges that we should work together to address.

After seven years of Republican promises to “repeal and replace” the ACA, they haven’t managed to do it, even with control of the legislative and executive branches. The majority of people, who realize it’s fundamentally good policy, have prevailed upon reasonable legislators … for now. It is my hope that the blind pursuit of campaign promises to obliterate Obamacare will cease and both parties will now come together to improve health care for every American. 

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