When the Affordable Care Act (ACA) passed in 2010, Americans were promised a health care system that would lower costs, expand patient choice and preserve access to the health plans and doctors they liked. Unfortunately, seven years later, too many families around the country are still feeling the negative impacts of a 2,000-page piece of legislation that dramatically altered one-sixth of the nation’s economy. Contrary to the opinion of the Star Tribune Editorial Board (“A costly step back for U.S. health care,” May 5), I believe there is a better way forward.
This year in Minnesota, those purchasing insurance through the individual market saw another year of premium increases; this time, it was 59 percent, which was fourth-highest in the nation. They found that four of the five insurance providers offering plans had capped enrollment, making it more difficult for Minnesotans to pick the plan that fits their needs. This is on top of the more than 100,000 Minnesotans who had their plan canceled for 2017. Premiums for those with employer-based coverage have risen 27 percent, double the growth in wages and almost three times faster than inflation.
This debate is about far more than just numbers, though. It’s about people. It is about the very real impact on families and individuals like those I have heard from. It is about Nyla, a recently widowed mother of four who saw her premiums jump to $1,000 per month with a $13,000 deductible. That was before she received a letter in the mail notifying her that her plan would be canceled. It is about Susan and her husband, who are small-business owners and saw a 60 percent increase in their premiums and now pay more than $13,000 per year with a deductible equally high and lost access to their doctor.
This debate is about Taryn, who, after being diagnosed with a brain tumor, suddenly had her plan canceled when her insurer pulled out of the market. Instead of developing a plan of action with her doctor, she had to spend precious time and resources looking for new coverage.
The proposal passed by the House last week is aimed at addressing many of the shortcomings of the ACA by stabilizing insurance markets and beginning to bring down premiums. What’s been missing from the opponents of the House bill, frankly, is an honest conversation about cost. The reality is that unless we address rising costs, the insurance market will continue to worsen for families, in terms of both access and affordability. Unfortunately, the ACA did not address the cost issue; instead it has led to steep increases in prices that have hit Minnesotans particularly hard. Rather than the one-size-fits-all Washington approach, we can empower states and consumers to take control of their own health care outcomes. This legislation will provide relief for the nearly 20 million Americans who have sought an exemption from the ACA’s mandate or are paying the tax penalty. That’s nearly double the number of Americans who have actually purchased insurance through the ACA marketplace.
The bill empowers states to better design health care plans that meet the needs of their citizens. It provides a portable tax credit to assist Americans who do not receive coverage from an employer in purchasing health insurance. It enhances and expands the use of consumer-driven health care accounts, such as Health Savings Accounts, and it once and for all repeals the harmful medical device tax.
It is also important to point out what is not in this bill. Nothing in this bill would allow an insurance company to deny someone coverage, including to those with a preexisting condition. Nothing would allow an insurance company to cancel someone’s insurance policy should they become sick. Despite claims from opponents, the bill does not classify sexual assault as a preexisting condition. For those who maintain continuous coverage, the bill does not allow insurance companies to charge an individual more simply because they have a preexisting condition. It’s also worth noting that this bill includes $138 billion to assist states in making sure everyone, including those with preexisting conditions, has access to high-quality, affordable health care.
The legislation passed last week is certainly not the end of the road but instead a first step toward providing Minnesotans with a health care system that works for them. I will continue to champion other legislative ideas, including my initiatives on chronic care reform, treating and reducing obesity, and ensuring that seniors have access to rehabilitation services, all of which enjoy bipartisan support. At the same time, we must continue to have a thoughtful discussion on solutions that will provide high-quality, affordable health care coverage.
Erik Paulsen represents Minnesota’s Third Congressional District and is a member of the House Committee on Ways and Means.