While Republicans in Congress may not have mustered the support to pass a national healthcare program of their design, some Democrats have already offered to work together to craft bipartisan reforms to the Affordable Care Act currently in place.
Just hours after Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain gave a stunning thumbs-down vote on the latest GOP healthcare plan — dubbed the “skinny repeal” because it would strike down the ACA without offering any replacement — New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone and three Democratic colleagues sent a letter to congressional leaders outlining their interest in joining forces to improve the nation’s healthcare system.
The pre-dawn vote Friday followed several days of procedural maneuvers in the Senate as GOP leaders tried and failed to advance a controversial plan to replace the ACA, which became known as “Trumpcare” among opponents. New Jersey Sens. Robert Menendez and Cory Booker were among those adamant that the bill would force millions of Americans to lose healthcare coverage or be stuck with more costly, less beneficial plans.
Losing more than coverage
Analysis by progressive organizations found the most recent version would have eliminated insurance coverage for some 560,000 low-income New Jerseyans — 10 percent of the adults under age 65 — drain more than $60 billion from state coffers over the next two years, and cost the state tens of thousands of healthcare jobs.
After Republicans, who needed the support of nearly all their members to pass the bill, lost the backing of several moderates, Senate leaders instead chose to put the skinny repeal up for a vote. McCain returned from Arizona, where he had just been diagnosed with brain cancer, in time to cast the deciding vote against that option.
The news was welcomed by healthcare advocates who had joined hands to strongly oppose the GOP plan. “I can’t help but think of those families who count on Medicaid or Obamacare for their healthcare coverage, and countless others who have pre-existing health conditions, and the knowledge that, for now at least, their access to health insurance is preserved,” said Betsy Ryan, president and CEO of the New Jersey Hospital Association, which represents scores of facilities.
On Friday afternoon, Pallone (of Long Branch) the ranking Democrat on the Committee on Energy and Commerce — which oversees health insurance issues — joined Democratic leaders from other key committees in a letter to their Republican counterparts. Pallone and Richard Neal (D-MA) of Ways and Means, Robert “Bobby” Scott (D-VA) of Education and the Workforce, and John Yarmuth (D-KY) on the Budget Committee urged the chairmen of those panels to work with them to make improvements in the current healthcare program.
“We write to express our willingness and interest in working together to strengthen our nation’s healthcare system. It is time to put partisanship aside and come together and work to lower healthcare costs for working Americans, promote stability in the individual market, and make further progress in expanding access to coverage,” they said.
“Democrats stand ready to work together if Republicans are ready to set aside their proposals to repeal the ACA, make devastating cuts to Medicaid, and give massive tax cuts for the wealthy and corporate interests,” the letter continued.
While Republicans have explored various repeal-and-replace strategies in recent months, the proposals all included some tax cuts for high-earners and on certain medical products, massive reductions in federal funding for Medicaid, and regulatory changes designed to reduce the cost of some coverage, which critics said would also make it impossible for those with pre-existing conditions to get affordable care.
In New Jersey, the landmark ACA allowed more than 550,000 additional low-income residents to qualify for Medicaid and provided subsidies to help another 300,000 obtain commercial coverage on the marketplace. By reducing the number of uninsured residents, it also allowed the state to save hundreds of millions of dollars on the charity-care program, which helps hospitals pay to treat those without healthcare.
Cost at expense of care?
But critics of the 2010 law note that insurance costs continue to escalate, while policy options shrink, and at least 700,000 Garden State residents remain without coverage. In addition, many patients and physicians remain frustrated with what they say is a system that is focused on cost at the expense of quality care.
Ryan, with the hospital association, was among those who agreed more could be done to improve this law. “The Affordable Care Act isn’t perfect, and the work must continue to address its shortcomings,” she said, urging the Garden State delegation to continue working in a bipartisan way to make it better. “We pledge to work with them to ensure continued coverage for New Jersey families, a sound insurance marketplace, a strong healthcare delivery system, and good health for New Jerseyans.”