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GOP health plan heals failing system, lowers costs

By Dave Brat and Rob Wittman

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Washington, June 4, 2017 | comments
The following joint op-ed appeared in the June 4, 2017 edition of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

By any measure, the Affordable Care Act — commonly known as Obamacare — has failed to deliver on its promises to lower costs, increase access to care, and expand choice. In fact, the exact opposite has occurred. Since 2013, average Virginia residents buying health insurance on Obamacare’s insurance marketplace have seen a 77 percent increase in their monthly premiums. Small businesses have opted to hire part-time employees or not expand because providing health insurance benefits is cost-prohibitive. Even families with employer-provided insurance have seen fewer options and skyrocketing deductibles.

To keep Obamacare afloat, the federal government has forked over billions of dollars to insurance companies to offset their losses. And dozens have chosen to stop providing insurance in the marketplace altogether because they cannot indefinitely operate in the red. In Virginia, Aetna recently quit the Obamacare marketplace leaving 24 Virginia counties with exactly one choice; this is not a free market system. Obamacare is falling apart, prompting the CEO of Aetna to say it is in a “death spiral.” Republicans in Congress now have a responsibility to enact reforms to Obamacare’s broken policies.

For seven years Republicans have promised to roll back Obamacare. The GOP health care bill will return stability to a system teetering on disaster and put decision-making back into the hands of patients. Both of us agree the bill is far from perfect, but it is a step toward reducing costs and reforming our health care system so it works for all Americans.

Health care is a very personal issue and we want to clearly outline what the American Health Care Act (AHCA) does and what it includes. First, it eliminates the individual and employer mandates. By providing refundable tax credits of up to $14,000 per year, the act protects the 7 percent of Americans who do not receive insurance through their employer or a government program. It strengthens Health Savings Accounts to give Americans more control and flexibility over their health care choices. And, most critically, the AHCA ensures that everyone who wants to purchase insurance is able to do so, including individuals with pre-existing conditions.

The three provisions we are hearing most about from Virginians have to do with Medicaid, pre-existing conditions, and coverage for seniors. We want to address them each in turn.

Safety nets for the most vulnerable must be protected. The AHCA will ensure Medicaid is sustainable long-term — not just for the vulnerable today, but in the future as well. Recently there has been confusion regarding how the AHCA affects Medicaid. For most enrollees, absolutely nothing will change.

The primary change to Medicaid in the ACHA is shifting to a tool known as a per-capita allotment to calculate federal contributions starting in 2020. Calculations for these allotments are based on average cost per enrollee and the number of enrollees in each category (aged, blind and disabled, children, and adults). Virginia will have more than sufficient funding to cover the eligible population because funding will increase if enrollment increases. Funding will grow based not only on enrollment levels, but also on the medical consumer price index (MCPI) which is more generous than the traditional CPI. For the elderly and blind and disabled, allotments will increase at the medical CPI plus 1 percent annually.

We also know there are concerns from those with pre-existing conditions. The provision in the ACHA on this issue only applies to the individual market where we have seen dramatic premium and deductible increases. The bill guarantees coverage to Americans with pre-existing conditions and prohibits health insurers from charging a patient with pre-existing coverage higher premiums as long as the patient maintains continuous coverage or does not have a gap in insurance coverage for more than two months. And if anyone with a pre-existing condition loses coverage and sees premium increases, the legislation includes $138 billion in safety net funding for states to use to offset costs through high-risk pools.

Some seniors have asked our offices how the AHCA will affect them. For those covered under Medicare, nothing will change. Those nearing retirement age are guaranteed to receive refundable tax credits of up to $14,000 per year to help them afford an insurance plan that best fits their unique health care needs.

The GOP health care plan rolls back Obamacare, returns decision-making to patients, and addresses rising premiums and deductibles. At the same time, it is a responsible path forward to ensure that the most vulnerable of today and the future are protected and that no one with pre-existing conditions loses coverage. The AHCA is the first step to restoring a health care system that works for all Americans.

Dave Brat represents Virginia’s 7th District in the U.S. House. Contact him at (202) 225-2815, through the website http://brat.house.gov, or on Twitter: @RepDaveBrat.

Rob Wittman represents Virginia’s 1st District in the U.S. House. Contact him at www.wittman.house.gov or (202) 225-4261.

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