Op-Ed: The Republican assault on the Affordable Care Act is not over

September 11, 2017

By Lee Webb, Special to the BDN • September 6, 2017

It seems like forever since it fell to three Republican senators — including Maine’s Susan Collins — to join with Democrats to stop efforts to take health care away from millions of Americans.

But it was just a month ago that efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act stalled.

And I say stalled because they have not ended.

Medicaid, which provides health insurance coverage to more than 260,000 Mainers, remains in the crosshairs, and some Republicans in Congress are doing their best to revive the move to undo the Affordable Care Act.

Early this summer, voters in Maine and across the country found their voice on health care. They spoke loudly and often. They wrote letters to their members of Congress, went to town hall meetings, called their offices, protested, picketed, cajoled, yelled and begged politicians to listen to them.

Their message, confirmed by polls and hundreds of displays large and small, was that they want more people to have insurance, not fewer.

And their efforts worked — for a while.

Unfortunately, U.S. Sens. Bill Cassidy and Lindsay Graham are reportedly working with the White House on a new version of a bill that would kill the Affordable Care Act.

It’s dressed up differently, but the results likely would be the same: Millions of people around the country and thousands in Maine would lose their health care coverage.

The bill would institute a per capita cap on Medicaid funds distributed to states, costing Maine $180 million by 2026, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, D.C. After 2026, it would get even worse. 

The repeal effort also would eliminate Medicaid expansion, which has helped 31 states and the District of Columbia provide quality, affordable health care to millions of people.

It would discontinue the tax credits that help Mainers to buy health insurance on the private market.

And it is expected to weaken protections for people with pre-existing conditions, re-impose lifetime limits, and raise deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses.

This proposal would put at risk older Mainers in nursing homes, people with disabilities, and about six in 10 newborns who rely upon Medicaid for a healthy start on life.

It also threatens the quality, affordability and access to care for all of us by destabilizing the insurance marketplace and scraping important consumer protections.

Most people agree that our health care system needs improvement. Even with the good that has come from the Affordable Care Act, including fewer people who must go without health care, we know that costs still can be too high.

There’s a need for real reform. But we can’t get to reform in a process marred by closed-door meetings, backroom deals and arm-twisting.

As Collins has said, we need an open, transparent and bipartisan approach to health care reform, which listens to experts, doctors and patients. The goal should be to expand the number of people with health care coverage, not take it away.

That’s not what we’ve had so far, and it’s not what we’re getting with this new Cassidy-Graham scheme.

Like its predecessors, this latest attack on Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act isn’t motivated by a desire for good health care policy. Instead, the goal is to take health coverage away from people to fund tax cuts for the wealthiest in our country.

Maine people have rejected this trade. They’re anxious for reform, but they won’t be fooled by a tax cut pretending to be about making health care better.

There are ways to make health care more accessible and affordable, but we can’t get there unless we have an honest and open discussion that’s built on facts.

Health care accounts for one-sixth of our country’s economy. But more than that, it is desperately important to the mother with a sick child, an adult caring for aging parents, or our neighbors who have a disability. To them, it’s more than numbers on a spreadsheet. It’s peace of mind or maybe even life and death.

That’s too important to leave to partisan politics and secret negotiations.

Lee Webb is chair of the board of directors of the Maine Center for Economic Policy.