Several proposals to radically alter health insurance for the worse failed in the U.S. Senate last month. Congress should now turn to policy solutions that strengthen Americans’ ability to find affordable, quality health insurance. In the meantime, advocates should be prepared for the potential next wave of attacks on the health insurance safety net.
Earlier this spring, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to cut more than a trillion dollars from health care funding for low- and moderate-income Americans, while at the same time cutting taxes for the nation’s highest-income people, insurance companies, and the medical device industry. Once the bill came to the U.S. Senate, Senate leaders tinkered with it behind closed doors before unveiling a series of amendments that also threatened to undo many of the coverage and patient-protection gains made under the ACA without effectively addressing any of the problems Americans still face when they shop for insurance.
These Senate proposals differed in their details, but all shared a few things in common. Like the House bill, they would have essentially ended the protections for people with pre-existing conditions, cut funding for people who are insured through Medicaid or receive subsidies to shop on the individual market, and would have left 22 to 32 million more people without health insurance within a matter of years.
A last-ditch effort to move American health care in the wrong direction failed to pass in a dramatic, late-night vote in the Senate after an incredible groundswell of support for Medicaid, through which millions of Americans find affordable care. Unfortunately, these proposals are unlikely to be the last attempts to roll back access to affordable health insurance in the coming months.
President Donald Trump and Congressional leaders have proposed budget plans that would decimate the safety net that connects vulnerable Americans with basic necessities like food and shelter. The current House budget plan suggests dramatic reductions in Medicaid, and the Trump budget similarly proposed cuts on top of what was included in the stalled Congressional health care legislation.
On top of the damage that would be done by these proposals, Trump has added uncertainty to the current market by threatening to withhold funding that lowers the costs of health care for low-income families. This threat could result in some insurers raising premiums for 2018.
It’s now time for Congress to build on the gains made under the ACA. The share of Americans without health insurance is at an all-time low. The remaining challenge: how to ensure that all Americans — regardless of age, pre-existing conditions, or locality — can afford both the monthly premiums and the cost of health care for a comprehensive health insurance plan.
That requires stabilizing the health insurance market, lowering premiums for those who find them out of reach, and controlling the costs of providing health care. Simply cutting our public investments in affordable health insurance won’t do the trick.