Patty Murray, a Democrat, represents Washington in the U.S. Senate.
Like so many people across the country, I breathed a sigh of relief when Trumpcare didn’t reach the president’s desk this summer. But legislation isn’t the only way the current administration has tried to undermine families’ health care and raise their costs. In fact, if Congress doesn’t act soon, patients and families will face higher premiums and fewer choices next year as a direct result of President Trump’s attempt to score political points by, as he says, letting the health care in our country “implode.”
Here’s why: The Affordable Care Act included efforts to reduce out-of-pocket costs for low-income people, but Trump has threatened time and time again to cut off these cost-cutting payments. Experts have said that without these payments, premiums will skyrocket and insurers will flee the marketplaces, limiting families’ coverage options. And as we’ve already seen, uncertainty alone has led to increased premiums and fewer plans in the exchanges.
This kind of damage is completely unnecessary. In fact, because these cost reduction efforts are already the law of the land, Trump can start fixing the problem now, just by committing to do everything in his power to prevent premium spikes.
Unfortunately, he hasn’t — and that is why so many Democrats and Republicans nationwide want Congress to come together instead to stabilize markets and protect families’ health care and bank accounts.
This is an important step. For far too long, Republican leaders have been so focused on repealing the law and fighting President Barack Obama that they have refused to join us at the table to work on actually reducing costs and improving care. But with bipartisan hearings starting this week in the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, I am hopeful that this can change.
Here is how we can succeed:
First and foremost, we need to focus on solving problems, not scoring political points. Democrats and Republicans actually agree on many solutions when it comes to stabilizing markets and preventing premium increases. Rather than wasting time on issues that divide us, we should prioritize finding common ground and moving the ball in the right direction.
Second, and relatedly, I will reject any effort to use this process as a back door to pass parts of Trumpcare that would erode protections for people with preexisting conditions — for example, women seeking maternity care or those with mental illness or substance-use disorders. We should strengthen protections and put more power in the hands of patients, not move health care backward and put insurance companies back in charge. Families rejected the damaging approach taken in Trumpcare, and now it’s time for both parties to find common ground on solutions that actually help patients and families.
Third, we need a multiyear solution to offer certainty to patients and families and to truly help prevent premium increases. Tying Trump’s hands in the short term is better than nothing, but without long-term solutions, insurers will likely become nervous about the future and increase rates once again.
Fourth, providing certainty around cost-sharing reductions is a necessary part of any agreement, but we shouldn’t stop there. In addition to longer-term solutions such as including a “public option” on the exchanges — which should absolutely be a part of any conversation about reducing costs — Democrats have put forward bill after bill to shore up markets right away.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.) has introduced legislation to ensure multiyear certainty by lowering coverage costs for low-income families. Sens. Tim Kaine (Va.) and Thomas R. Carper (Del.) have proposed establishing a reinsurance program that helps offset costs associated with covering the sickest enrollees. Sens. Claire McCaskill (Mo.) and Brian Schatz (Hawaii) have explored options that would prevent “bare counties,” markets that would have no insurers in the Affordable Care Act exchanges. And many Democrats are looking to ensure a smooth open-enrollment process despite the administration’s decision to slash outreach and advertising for the exchanges. These are only a few examples.
It’s not just Democratic senators who are taking a broad look at how to stabilize markets and lower costs. Governors from both sides of the aisle are, too. Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) have put forward a number of ideas, including reinsurance, which should inform our discussions in the Senate.
Getting anything done in Congress these days is difficult, but I am hopeful that we can work together to find common ground. We have a rare opportunity for bipartisan progress on health-care reform in just a matter of days. Let’s take it.