Sunday, June 18, 2017

Rep. Newhouse Responds to My Letter Urging a 'No' Vote on the American Health Care Act

Dear Dr. Badalamente,

          Thank you for contacting my office regarding your thoughts on the American Health Care Act.  It is important to hear from constituents as I work in Congress representing the people of Washington’s 4th District.  I sincerely appreciate you reaching out and sharing your views on this important issue.
          I strongly believe Congress must act to improve our health care system and ensure all Americans have access to quality care.  The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has failed far too many Americans, and this trend continues with fewer and fewer plans available to families across the country as insurers continue to flee the market, limiting options and increasing costs.  Right here in our state, the health insurance market continues to collapse.  The Office of the Insurance Commissioner (OIC) recently announced drastic reductions of choices in the 2018 marketplace, resulting in less than half the number of individual health plans Washingtonians can now buy in and outside the state’s insurance exchange.  Currently, 13 insurers offer 154 plans in Washington state.  In 2018, that number will be cut down to just 71 plans offered by 11 insurers.  These changes will impact tens of thousands of patients in our state.  Chelan, Ferry, Pend Oreille, and San Juan counties will all have only one insurer offering coverage plans on the exchange—that is no choice at all.  Douglas County, right here in Washington’s 4th Congressional District, will also only have one option.  Even more devastating, Grays Harbor and Klickitat counties will have no options at all; zero insurers are offering insurance plans in these counties, both in and outside of the ACA exchange.  This year alone, premiums rose 13.1 percent in our state.  If Congress does not address this issue, premiums, deductibles, and other health care costs will continue to rise and choices for coverage will continue to diminish.  Too many families are being afflicted with skyrocketing costs and limited access to care, which is why I remain committed to providing relief for the American people and to fixing our broken health care system.

          As you may know, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 1628, the American Health Care Act (AHCA), on May 4, 2017, by a vote of 217-213.  The legislation is now being considered by the U.S. Senate.  I released the following statement upon passage of H.R. 1628 in the House:
“For years, I have been hearing from Central Washington families who lost insurance that they wanted to keep and are now paying more for health care due to the Affordable Care Act.  Their stories of paying higher prices for insurance and higher deductibles with limited insurance options have been the reason I have voted in the past to repeal Obamacare along with its mandate and bureaucratic regulations.  I strongly believe that every American deserves access to affordable health care, and the status quo under the ACA is not working.  Because of my wife Carol’s health, I have largely remained by her side and was unable to be in D.C. for the vote on the AHCA.  I am pleased the process to improve our health care system will continue with action by the Senate and further negotiations with the House.  I will continue to work with my colleagues to keep my promise to reverse the burdens created by Obamacare and restore patient-centered health care.”

          I believe all Americans deserve access to quality, affordable health care.  We owe it to the American people to replace the ACA with an alternative that reduces costs and ensures patients have access to quality care of their choice.  The AHCA eliminates the federally dictated individual and employer mandates established by the ACA, which have driven many consumers from the marketplace or forced them to buy costly plans that don’t fit their individual needs.  I fundamentally believe the federal government should not be mandating Americans to purchase a one-size-fits-all health plan, but rather should encourage Americans to purchase the health plan they deem best fits their needs or those of their family.  The bill also dismantles the vast array of burdensome taxes set down by the ACA.  Instead, the AHCA will help Americans access affordable, quality health care by providing tax credits for low- and middle-income individuals and families so they can purchase insurance in the private market.  The bill also establishes a Patient and State Stability Fund that provides $138 billion to states to design programs that meet the unique needs of their patient populations while helping low- and middle-income Americans afford quality health care coverage.  Additionally, the AHCA enhances and expands Health Savings Accounts so Americans can plan and save for their future health care needs.  By eliminating burdensome taxes and lifting the mandates currently weighing on the shoulders of millions Americans, I believe we can spur a robust market for individuals and families to access the best care they need, cut out-pocket costs like premiums and deductibles, promote access to health care services, and lower costs for Americans.

          There has been an extensive amount of misreporting about the AHCA, particularly regarding the update to the bill known as the MacArthur amendment.  To reduce insurance premiums, the MacArthur amendment provides states with the option to apply for limited waivers from certain federal insurance regulations that increase premiums.  This new flexibility will allow states to design insurance frameworks that are best for their unique populations, providing better care and lowering costs for patients.  States that apply for these waivers must have established a risk-sharing program with the purpose of lowering premiums and other out of pocket costs for patients in the program.  To be clear, under the AHCA and the MacArthur Amendment, insurance companies are prohibited from denying or not renewing coverage due to an individual’s pre-existing condition.  Insurance companies are also banned from rescinding coverage based on a pre-existing condition.  And, insurance companies are banned from excluding benefits based on a pre-existing condition.

          The waiver only applies to the individual insurance market, where approximately seven percent of the country purchases coverage.  It does not apply to the 93 percent of Americans with employer-provided coverage or a government coverage program, such as Medicare, Medicaid, Tricare, and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits.  In the rare circumstance when a person who purchases health care in the individual market may be affected by a waiver and charged a higher premium, it would be due to that individual not maintaining continuous insurance coverage.  Under no circumstance could they be denied coverage for a pre-existing condition.  Additionally, higher premiums could only be charged to these individuals for a period of one year.  The $138 billion Patient and State Stability Fund includes $100 billion for states to establish these high-risk pools, cut out-of-pocket costs, promote participation in private health insurance markets, increase the number of options available through the market, and develop other innovative risk-sharing programs.  $15 billion is made available to establish a federal risk-sharing program to serve as a secondary buffer for high-cost individuals.  An additional $15 billion is made available specifically to cover costs associated with maternity and newborn care, mental health care, and substance abuse disorders.  Finally, $8 billion is specifically targeted to reduce the premiums and out-of-pocket costs of those citizens with pre-existing conditions who find themselves in the unlikely situation outlined above.

          I was disappointed to see the many outlandish and appalling claims being made about the AHCA, including the dangerous assertion that rape and sexual assault are classified as pre-existing conditions that could prevent an individual from accessing insurance coverage.  This is a patent lie, as no one can be denied coverage, and I am glad the Washington Post rated it false with “Four Pinocchios”:  Various other claims have been debunked or fact-checked as false, including baseless and irresponsible assertions that seven million veterans will lose their health insurance tax credit, that 129 million people with pre-existing conditions could be denied coverage, and that the AHCA goes “back to the day when insurance companies could deny coverage to those with pre-existing conditions.”  Honest public debate should rightly take place in our country when comprehensive reforms are being discussed and considered—but such debates must be made on the facts, not on fear-mongering hyperbole.

          Again, I believe we can do better for Americans struggling with high health care costs, and I will continue to advocate for a system that benefits all Washingtonians and all Americans.  We can protect the most vulnerable amongst us without sacrificing the livelihoods of many in the middle class.  We can strengthen the safety net for those who need it most, aid those transitioning out of the safety net by supporting them with tax credits to purchase affordable care that fits their needs, and make it easier for middle class families to access and acquire the care they desire.

          Over the past several months, I have been meeting and speaking with constituents from all sides of the health care debate, including doctors, nurses, hospital and health district administrators, insurers, patients, and constituents—all who have a variety of perspectives and helpful input.  It is vital we continue to have a dialogue in order to find common ground and solve these problems together.  My door has been, and will always be, open to hear from patients, providers, experts, physicians, and all people of the 4th Congressional District as we continue to have this national debate.  I remain committed to reforming our health care system to ensure current and future generations have access to the care they need, and I greatly appreciate the input of engaged citizens like you.
          I hope you will continue to be in contact as Congress debates the many issues of importance to the country. I also encourage you to connect with me on Facebook and Twitter and to sign up for my e-newsletter for the latest updates on my work to represent Central Washington’s views in our nation’s capital.
          Thank you again for taking the time to share your concerns with me—I am always glad to hear from constituents of the 4th District. It is an honor and privilege to serve you in Congress.

Dan Newhouse
Member of Congress


1 comment:

Kendall Miller said...

It's a waste of time and pixels to debate anything about the AHCA. The Senate secret bill is what needs to be debated and that isn't going to happen. What should matter for 4th CD voters are the consequences of the secret bill when it gets passed. Those are the things that Rep. Newhouse will be forced to defend. I think he will be doomed by them.