California Forum

Dems and the GOP are working together to fix health care. No, really. It’s happening.

Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich, right, and Democratic Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, shown here in June at a Washington news conference, are among those calling for bipartisan health insurance reform.
Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich, right, and Democratic Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, shown here in June at a Washington news conference, are among those calling for bipartisan health insurance reform. AP

As a doctor, I know many Americans are concerned about the future of health care. Nobody should have to worry that an unexpected medical bill could threaten their family’s financial security.

Unfortunately, Republicans have tried for several months to gut the Affordable Care Act without offering a replacement. Playing politics with people’s lives is wrong. As Congress returns from summer recess, we have a clear decision to make: Can we work together to fix health care?

I believe that before the political maneuvering begins again, we have a real chance for bipartisan health care reform. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, 20 million more Americans now have health insurance and people with pre-existing conditions are no longer denied coverage.

But in order for Congress to make improvements, both sides need to honestly discuss the law’s shortcomings. This July, after months of discussion and work, I led nine of my colleagues to unveil proposals that address many of the challenges that still exist: stabilizing the individual marketplace, getting more people enrolled and lowering the cost of care.

These proposals were specifically designed to have bipartisan appeal and ultimately achieve universal coverage. Just two months later, our plan is supported by nearly half of the House Democrats. The message is clear to Republicans: We’re ready to work if they come to the negotiating table.

The first step is stabilizing the individual marketplace. The Kaiser Family Foundation recently found that the Trump administration’s threat to end payments that lower out-of-pocket costs triggered double-digit increases in premiums.

That’s unacceptable. Congress should immediately address this uncertainty by ensuring that those payments are made and that we protect people with pre-existing conditions with a dedicated fund to offset high medical costs. According to the Congressional Budget Office, those dedicated funds can reduce premiums by as much as 10 percent. Stabilizing the marketplace creates certainty and drives down premium costs.

Second, we need to get more people covered. Unfortunately, the Trump administration just announced they will slash the outreach budget promoting open enrollment by 90 percent.

That doesn’t make sense. Increasing the number of healthy people insured improves the risk pool and lowers premiums. We’ve seen from California to Kentucky that states with aggressive marketing strategies have higher enrollment numbers. Congress must address this deliberate sabotage before the next open enrollment.

Once the market stabilizes and Americans are fully insured, we can lower costs even further. There is no shortage of great ideas.

Our proposal considers allowing Americans near retirement to buy into Medicare, expands the availability of low cost plans for young people, and targets premium support by age, geography and income. We include many of the ideas that made Covered California successful, such as balancing markets to lower costs for rural Americans.

There are dozens of ideas to keep costs down, but it all depends on our ability to put politics aside and work together.

Any plan that tries to address our health care challenges must tackle these three areas. As a founding member of the Problem Solvers Caucus, I took our plan to my Republican colleagues for input. The plan we crafted together was truly bipartisan and universally well-received.

Since then, similar bipartisan efforts have emerged, such as the proposal by Gov. John Kasich and Gov. John Hickenlooper. Good ideas cut across party lines when we work together to find common ground. For the first time in seven years, Democrats and Republicans are genuinely discussing our health care challenges and how to solve them.

Every doctor swears an oath: to do good, to do no harm and to help patients make the best health care decisions for their own circumstances. I believe Congress should take that same oath.

Sacramento County faces real health care challenges and it’s time Washington put solutions over politics. Americans deserve quality, affordable health care – and we can certainly deliver results if we are willing to work together.

Rep. Ami Bera, M.D., an Elk Grove Democrat, represents California’s 7th congressional district. He can be contacted at ami.bera@mail.house.gov.

  Comments