Last month, President Barack Obama signed into law a bipartisan measure revolutionizing biomedicine in the United States that I co-authored: the 21st Century Cures Act.
While writing that bill with Republican Fred Upton of Michigan, I learned what this country’s researchers, heath care providers, patients and private-sector stakeholders needed to modernize the federal approach to biomedicine — changes that will lead to better, faster treatment and cures.
When the bill was signed into law, it was praised — including by this paper— for demonstrating that Congress can get big, important things done despite partisan differences and gridlock.
Now we face a critical test of congressional ability to resolve the shortcomings of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) while preserving its strengths. Unfortunately, due to Republican intransigence, we are failing this test.
Instead of working with Democrats to improve the ACA, the Republican majority intends to “repeal and replace” the law even though they have not come close to producing a comparable alternative.
In defense of this rash plan, which would cause millions of Americans to lose the health insurance they rely on, the Republicans have made statements that are either misleading or demonstrably false.
A recent op-ed in this paper by the four Republican members of the Colorado congressional delegation illustrates my point. In their op-ed, they make many incorrect assertions, including:
- The ACA has not been successful at expanding coverage or access to care. In fact, the uninsurance rate is now at a historic low of 8.6 percent. In 2010, prior to ACA implementation, 16 percent of Americans were uninsured. Colorado’s uninsurance rate has gone from 14 percent before the ACA to 6.7 percent. And many people here and nationwide who are enrolled in insurance are accessing health care that they had previously gone without.
- Repealing the ACA would not result in immediate coverage losses. In reality, the chaos caused by ACA repeal, especially without a simultaneous comprehensive replacement, would prompt many health plans to leave the exchanges immediately — even if the repeal is “delayed” by years. An estimated 588,000 Coloradans stand to lose their care. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has just reported that legislation to repeal the ACA would increase the number of uninsured nationwide by 32 million by the year 2026 — 18 million in the first year alone.
- The ACA made premiums skyrocket. This is one of the most common attacks, but for the more than 80 percent of Americans enrolled in the exchanges who are eligible for its tax credits, premium costs have hardly changed. In Colorado alone, tax credits for low-income residents has diminished the impact of increases to the point that consumers have seen an average 11 percent drop in their premiums since the ACA. And it’s worth noting that before the ACA, double-digit premium increases were common.
What happens in Washington will affect every American — not just those in the exchanges. Repeal would wreak havoc on our country’s entire health system. Even if you have insurance coverage through your employer, you would not be safe from the chaos and cascading effects of repeal.
Those in employer-based plans would stand to lose the most popular benefits of the ACA: stronger coverage protections for people with pre-existing conditions, elimination of annual and lifetime caps on coverage, dependent coverage for children under age 26, free preventive care and more.
Repeal would especially hurt the middle class, patients suffering from chronic conditions, and the most vulnerable among us. Millions of people on the exchanges would lose their insurance, those with subsidies would no longer get them, and Medicaid recipients and seniors would suffer.
No law is perfect. I have implored my colleagues on the other side of the aisle to work on a bipartisan bill — but so far, they seem intent on rushing ahead unilaterally in a risky manner.
Reliance on “alternative facts” may now be in vogue in Washington, D.C. When applied to issues like crowd size at the inauguration, that’s something you shake your head at. When used to support a risky repeal of the ACA, it’s downright dangerous to America’s health.