With the Pennsylvania primaries behind us, voters should take a hard look at what congressional candidates on the ballot in November are going to do to fix our expensive health-care system. Its fate will be on the line in the general election.
The debate over the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, became a wake-up call for both voters and elected officials just a year ago, when a new repeal-and-replace bill passed the House and many feared they would lose coverage. But the bill ultimately didn’t make it past the Senate.
Take the case of U.S. Rep. Tom MacArthur (R., N.J.), who offered an amendment that helped move the GOP plan out of a deadlock and closer to passing, which would have caused many to lose coverage. At a MacArthur town hall meeting in Burlington County, hundreds of angry voters came to protest. Democrats saw enough blood in the water that they ran a candidate against him this year, instead of sitting on the sidelines like they did in 2016.
MacArthur certainly wasn’t the only Republican to face criticism at a town hall, and by the time the Senate released its bill in the summer, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) couldn’t muster the votes to move it forward.
The GOP plan would have denied affordable health insurance to 23 million by 2026, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. It allowed insurance companies to discriminate against people with preexisting conditions, charge people over 50 more than younger customers, and let states eliminate coverage for maternity and mental health care.
The bill also let people escape the individual mandate, which forces customers to either purchase health insurance or pay a fine. Insurance companies correctly argue that when healthy people aren’t buying insurance, the companies are unable to smooth out costs by adjusting the rates paid by healthy and sick people.
These ideas aren’t dead, however. They’re laying low, waiting for the right time to resurface.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) announced last week that he’s going to continue to push a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare.
To be sure, there are still problems with Obamacare. Premiums and medical costs are too high. It doesn’t help that the Trump administration continues to undermine it.
For example, the administration cut payments to insurance companies that help lower consumer costs (called cost-sharing). In Pennsylvania, state officials had predicted Obamacare premiums would increase by about 7.6 percent from 2017 to 2018. But with the cutbacks in federal payments, that jumped to 30.6 percent for 389,081 people for 2018.
The health debate has shifted to one about cost, according to a poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation, and drug prices seem to be at the center. Although Trump recently gave a speech on drug costs, he gave few hints on how he’d lower them. But he will have to come up with something. Insurers will be announcing 2019 rates in the coming months, and they’re expected to go up, in part because of those higher drug prices.
Voters should make affordable, good quality health care an issue in the fall election. Ask candidates to detail just how they are going to lower your premiums and guarantee good care.