Every day I hear stories from folks across East Tennessee who are being forced to choose between paying their monthly insurance premium or buying other essentials for their families. With health care premiums skyrocketing and competition among providers eliminated, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, is forcing Americans to purchase health insurance that they don’t like, need, and cannot afford. In fact, beginning in 2018, one-third of the counties in the First District have no options for coverage through the Obamacare exchanges after Humana announced they were pulling out of the exchanges completely. Roughly 131,000 individuals faced losing their coverage for 2017 when BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, the state’s largest insurer, announced they would be pulling out of the exchanges in three major markets after requesting and receiving permission to increase premiums by 62 percent. Even worse, this was on the heels of a 56 percent average premium increase across the state. After nearly eight years of struggling under Obamacare, it’s time to allow Tennesseans to have the free-market, patient-centered health care that they deserve.
Last week, Speaker Ryan unveiled the American Health Care Act (AHCA), legislation that repeals Obamacare and lays the groundwork for a 21st century health care system. This legislation, which has been closely coordinated with the Trump administration, will increase access to affordable, flexible health care plans. It accomplishes this in a number of ways: greatly expand access to health savings accounts; maintaining protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions; and perhaps most importantly, it will begin the long-overdue process of reforming Medicaid into a program that will actually provide quality health care for its recipients. In a 2013 study, Medicaid recipients were found to have no better health outcomes than individuals who were uninsured. This isn’t surprising – Medicaid payment rates are so low that few providers can afford to accept the program, leaving many recipients to only have access to care through the emergency room. Medicaid gives first-class people second-class care, and it is time to give Medicaid recipients access to the physicians of their choice. AHCA does this by giving states more flexibility in how they structure their programs, and I believe it’s one of the most significant reforms in this package.
Just this week, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released their estimate on AHCA’s effects. According to the CBO report, premiums will be lowered by 10 percent by 2026 as compared to current law, the federal deficit will be reduced by $337 billion, and health care choices will increase creating a more vibrant market distinguished by freedom and flexibility. While we all would like to see as many people enroll for health insurance as possible, it’s important to remember that CBO estimates that fewer people will be enrolled under this plan than Obamacare because people will no longer be forced to purchase government-mandated coverage. Additionally, it’s important to remember the CBO estimate for coverage under Obamacare was much different than the final coverage numbers. With the American Health Care Act, our goal is to make health care accessible to all Americans who wish to purchase insurance, and I think they will be able to do so as a result of this plan.
This legislation is part of a three-pronged approach to repeal and replace Obamacare. AHCA is step one, and it will utilize the reconciliation process to repeal Obamacare and replace it with policies that will lower premiums over time while stabilizing the market to give patients more choices and freedom in their health care coverage. There are very strict rules about what can and cannot be included in a reconciliation bill, which is why Congress is unable to add certain provisions to the American Health Care Act despite their broad support. Most importantly, this process gives Republicans in the Senate the ability to waive the 60-vote requirement in the Senate rules and pass budget-related provisions by a simple majority vote. You may recall that Democrats used reconciliation to push pieces of Obamacare through Congress.
Step two is for Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price to direct his agency to bring relief from the many rules and regulations in Obamacare. This will help lower costs and bring greater stability to the health care market. There are 1,442 provisions in Obamacare that give the Secretary discretion to tailor the law, so I am confident Secretary Price will be able to give significant regulatory relief that increases quality, affordability, and choice.
Step three is to work toward passing the numerous provisions that have broad support in Congress that cannot be included in a reconciliation bill. These provisions will do things like allow for the purchase of insurance across state lines, allow small businesses to band together to purchase insurance through Association Health Plans, protect self-insured plans from government regulation, and pave the way for medical liability reform. While these bills will require bipartisan support because of the Senate’s rules, I am hopeful that these bills combined with our new health care plan will give Americans the health care they can afford and deserve.
Instead of Tennesseans being forced to purchase a one-size-fits-all plan which empties their pockets and leaves low-and middle-income families behind, this plan will ensure all Americans have access to affordable, quality coverage. Learn more at readthebill.gop.
As always, feel free to contact my office if I can be of assistance to you or your family.