Op-Ed: What Virginians will lose with ACA repeal
FOR DECADES, the nation’s leaders were at a stalemate, unable to enact real reform, even though we knew that our health care system was not working for too many Americans.
Before reform, millions lost their health insurance every year. Often, individuals with pre-existing conditions, such as cancer or diabetes, were unable to afford insurance, if they could obtain it at all.
The critically ill hit the lifetime limit of what their insurance policy would cover, forcing them to pay out of pocket for the rest of their care. Families were declaring bankruptcy because of unpaid medical bills. Young adults were getting kicked off their parents’ insurance when they graduated college.
Medicare was only a few years away from becoming insolvent and seniors with Medicare Part D prescription coverage encountered the infamous “donut hole,” forcing too many of our seniors who could not afford the full cost of their drugs to skip doses or simply go without.
Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, or ACA, 20 million Americans have gained health care coverage and now enjoy greater health and financial security.
An estimated 129 million Americans with pre-existing conditions now enjoy protections that prevent them from having to pay exorbitant rates. People who already had insurance are getting better benefits in the form of free preventive services.
Young adults can now stay on their parents’ health insurance until their 26th birthday. The Medicare Trust Fund is solvent well into the next decade.
The ACA is closing the donut hole. In 2015 alone, Virginia seniors saved $116 million on prescription drugs — an average of $1,015 per senior. Insurance companies can no longer have annual caps or lifetime limits on what they pay. And 85 percent of Americans who purchase their insurance through the Affordable Care Act marketplaces receive subsidies that reduce their monthly premiums and shield them from drastic price increases.
The ACA did not cure all the problems with our system, but it was a vital step forward in improving it.
Despite these gains, Republicans are promising to dismantle the progress of the last seven years by repealing the ACA and taking away benefits Americans now enjoy. When Republicans say ‘‘repeal and replace,’’ the only thing you can be sure of is the repeal part.
If they had a viable replacement, the American people would have seen it sometime in the past seven years. Americans are being asked to settle for a repeal and then delay, without knowing what alternative Republicans will actually propose — if they ever get around to any sort of alternative proposal at all.
According to the Urban Institute, the catastrophic consequences of repeal would mean that an estimated 30 million Americans could lose their insurance. Of those, 82 percent would be working families.
Those with pre-existing conditions would lose coverage or be unable to afford it. The ACA’s consumer protections, such as prohibitions on annual and lifetime limits in insurance, would evaporate. A repeal would also threaten the solvency of the Medicare Trust Fund, which was extended under the ACA.
We should not facilitate such a debacle by allowing Republicans to take away these benefits and jeopardize lifesaving insurance coverage for millions of hardworking Americans and their families.
Unfortunately, repeal of the ACA goes hand in hand with other initiatives to weaken the health security of American families. Over the past six years, Republicans have repeatedly proposed budgets that would slash funding to both Medicare and Medicaid — programs vital to seniors and their families.
Instead of jeopardizing health care for millions of Americans, members of Congress should work to make improvements to the law that would make the lives of all Americans easier, not harder.
I expect Republicans will soon realize that they cannot promise the American people all the popular benefits of the ACA without the unpopular provisions required to make reform work.
When that finally happens, Congress can refocus its efforts on improving both the ACA and the financial security of American families. But in no case should anyone accept a promise to “repeal and replace” without seeing the specifics of the replacement.
U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott, a Democrat, represents Virginia’s 3rd District and is the ranking member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.