For most Americans, the choices they make when it comes to their families’ care are the most important, and most costly, decisions they make every year. The last thing they want is for partisan politics to get in the way.
One of us, Sen. Durenberger, served years ago as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee’s subcommittee on health care policy and as a member of the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, on which the other, Sen. Franken, serves today. To be sure, we have both found ourselves disagreeing with colleagues of the opposing party about the best ways to lower costs and improve the quality of health care.
But we have also both found that real progress is only possible when both sides are more interested in actually solving problems than they are in scoring political points.
Unfortunately, that hasn’t always been the case in recent years. Ever since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, we’ve seen Republicans refuse to work with Democrats to improve the law, building on its successes and amending its flaws, insisting instead that its protections be repealed in their entirety.
Worse, they’ve actually tried to sabotage its implementation and prevent it from working the way it was intended.
Just recently, President Donald Trump announced that he would withhold important payments — known as “cost-sharing reduction” (CSR) payments — that help low-income Americans pay for their copays and deductibles. This could result in skyrocketing premiums for Minnesota families.
Enough is enough. The Affordable Care Act — an imperfect piece of legislation that has nevertheless extended the peace of mind that comes with health insurance to millions of families and strengthened protections for tens of millions more — is the law of the land. And it’s time for Democrats and Republicans to set politics aside and work together to lower the cost and improve the quality of health care for every American family.
That kind of bipartisan problem-solving may seem unlikely, but we both believe it to be possible, because we have both seen it happen firsthand.
Despite disagreements, Sen. Durenberger often worked with Democrats to find consensus — and there was often plenty of consensus to be found. After all, the challenges involved in delivering quality, affordable care aren’t ideological — and the solutions don’t have to be, either.
Even in this era of increased partisanship, Sen. Franken has found the same to be true. And the good news is, he’s not alone. The HELP Committee’s Republican chairman, Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, and Democratic ranking member, Washington Sen. Patty Murray, have worked together to focus the committee’s work on progress, not politics, holding a series of bipartisan hearings during which they heard testimony from governors and insurance commissioners from several states and of both parties.
These hearings lacked the partisan fire we usually see on cable news shows — but that’s exactly why they were so useful. As it turned out, senators and witnesses of all ideological persuasions found themselves frequently agreeing on important details of health care policy.
That’s why, last week, Sens. Alexander and Murray were able to announce a bipartisan agreement designed to stabilize the health insurance marketplace, increase competition and help consumers get a better deal when shopping for insurance policies.
In addition to restoring certainty to the insurance market and averting a spike in the cost of insurance by making sure CSR payments are made on time, the bill includes a provision — drafted in part by Sen. Franken — that will help states develop their own innovative solutions to help increase the quality and lower the cost of care.
We are both believers in state innovation because our own state of Minnesota is a national leader when it comes to health care. But hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for MinnesotaCare, which provides quality, affordable coverage for nearly 100,000 Minnesotans, was tied up in Washington red tape. The Alexander-Murray bill not only makes MinnesotaCare whole, it makes it easier for other states to follow our lead in using the 1332 waiver process to find new ways to improve the health care system.
There is far more work to be done — on lowering the cost of prescription drugs, on continuing to strengthen the insurance marketplace, on improving our response to the opioid crisis and more. But that work can only be done in a bipartisan fashion, through regular legislative order, without the partisan grandstanding that has recently threatened to wreak havoc on our health care system.
We hope that Congress will pass the bipartisan Alexander-Murray bill. But we also hope that it will be just a first step down a less-contentious, more-productive path — a path that leads to better, more affordable health care for families throughout Minnesota and around the country.
David Durenberger was a Republican U.S. senator from Minnesota from 1978 to 1995. Al Franken, a Democrat, has represented Minnesota in the U.S. Senate since 2009.