This week, Republicans once again threatened to rip away the promise of affordable quality health care for American families. The Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson amendment was irresponsible, harmful and the wrong approach to solving the issue at hand. Now, more than ever, there is an urgent need for bipartisan cooperation to improve the Affordable Care Act.
In recent months, Democratic energy has been intensely focused on opposing the almost fanatical efforts to tear down the Affordable Care Act. Not surprisingly, after seven years, Republicans had no real plan to replace the Act, much less one that delivered on the president’s promise of great health care for all. Republicans simply threatened to pull the rug out from under America’s families – taking away their coverage, their access to health care and threatening their economic security.
Our opposition was not based on thoughtless partisanship or some need to defend President Obama’s legacy; like most of America, we don’t want to go back to a world in which many Americans are uninsurable or incapable of affording health insurance. We will be the first to admit that the ACA is not perfect; there are many actions Congress and the administration should take to improve our health care system and ensure that all Americans have access to affordable health care. For starters, the administration should use its authority to stabilize individual insurance markets instead of sabotaging them. From there, we should all agree on the twin goals of universal coverage and significant cost control.
Congress must act in a bipartisan way to improve the ACA. The individual market, accounting for seven percent of health care enrollees nationwide, needs improvement. That is why I, along with several other Members of the forward-thinking, pro-economic growth New Democrat Coalition, released a set of proposals over two months ago to stabilize health insurance markets and bring down the cost of healthcare for all Americans. The proposals outline ways to create a permanent reinsurance program, reduce healthcare costs for low-income Americans, promote greater insurance coverage, create more affordable insurance options, and improve the marketplaces.
These proposals, a result of conversations with health care experts, fellow Democrats, and our House Republican colleagues, identified ways to improve our health care system before many Democrats openly admitted to the ACA’s imperfections.
After releasing its proposals, the New Democrat Coalition called on Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to lead in a bipartisan manner to stabilize and improve the individual health insurance market while protecting the Affordable Care Act. I then joined the Problem Solvers Caucus in releasing a bipartisan set of solutions to stabilize health insurance markets and provide relief to individuals, families and small businesses. More than a statement of policy, this collection of ideas shows that Democrats and Republicans can work together on even the most challenging of topics to make progress. Govs. John Kasich of Ohio and John Hickenlooper of Colorado stepped forward to show bipartisan support on these proposals, urging Congress to act. The best way to make the individual market stronger is cooperation that advances meaningful, lasting reform and I am committed to building a bipartisan consensus to improve the individual marketplaces.
With this issue gaining attention and momentum in Congress, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) held hearings on stabilizing premiums in the individual insurance market so that the 18 million Americans in the individual market will be able to buy insurance at affordable prices in the year 2018 and started working on a bipartisan proposal. Moving forward, Congress needs to craft responsible reforms to bring long-term stability and predictability to the individual market.
There was a glimmer of hope that Democrats and Republicans would come together to discuss real solutions to improve the ACA that has made tremendous progress for millions of people. This week we found ourselves again banding together to save health care access for millions of Americans when we could have been capitalizing on the bipartisan momentum created by the New Democrat Coalition, Problem Solvers Caucus, and Senate Health Committee to address the pressing problems of market stabilization in our health care system. I am glad Republican leaders have abandoned their most recent attempt to take away Americans’ access to affordable health care. Now I urge congressional leaders to get back to working on a viable bipartisan path forward.
Jim Himes represents the 4th District of Connecticut and is chair of the New Democrat Coalition.