It’s now been three years since the President and Congress passed a massive overhaul of our health care system. While I didn’t support this specific bill, I embrace the idea that folks in Southwest Washington should be able to afford quality care for themselves and their families. Unfortunately, the health care bill’s three year checkup reveals that we’ve drifted farther from this goal.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) was ushered through Congress under pledges of lower health care premiums for hardworking people, reduced health care costs, and coverage for those with pre-existing conditions. Instead, folks are facing higher costs, more taxes, and some with pre-existing conditions are still being turned away.
Consider the alarming comments about the health care law by the ACA’s co-author, U.S. Senator Max Baucus, D-Mont., during an April 17 hearing: “I just see a huge train wreck coming down.”
During the debate over health care in 2008, President Obama consistently promised that “If you like your health insurance, you can keep it.” However, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reported in March that up to 20 million employees could lose their employer-sponsored health care due to new provisions. Folks who have been happy with their health care will now need to scramble to find another plan. People I talk to throughout Southwest Washington fear they will no longer be able to see their family doctor once the new provisions take effect. Quality of care will suffer and hard-working families will be left with less choice.
Also troubling is that health care is going to cost families more. Since 2008 -- a year before the bill was passed -- the average family’s health insurance premium has grown by over $3,000 and the costs to families will only keep growing. A recent study found that insurers could pay an average of 32 percent more for medical claims -- higher costs that will be passed on to individuals.
On top of rising premiums, the CBO has projected that the legislation’s price tag will be nearly twice the original cost to taxpayers.
The deadline for small business owners to comply with the law is supposed to be late 2013 – but small businesses are almost totally in the dark. One explained he and his business have spent hundreds of hours working to comply with the law, but the only thing experts and federal officials agree on is this: “It will cost more for everyone.”
A recent Wall Street Journal poll found 77 percent of small businesses say the health care law will make employee coverage more expensive. This leaves struggling business owners wringing their hands over whether they can afford to hire -- or keep the employees they have.
This means a bill intended to improve health care will end up costing us jobs. Businesses with 50 or more employees must pay a fine if they do not provide health care. Small business owners are confessing they either won’t hire will actually lay off workers order to stay below this threshold. We should be putting more moms and dads back to work -- but this bill takes us in the opposite direction.
It’s difficult to offer a quick prescription to address these serious problems with this health care law. The first step is to simply provide answers. My office and I are working to collect information to try and help people understand what this law will mean to them.
Second, we can’t stop pushing for a better health care solution. Had Congress implemented commonsense, patient-centered solutions back in 2009, we’d be in a far better place. For instance, expanded health savings accounts would give individuals and families more control over their health care choices. Small businesses could be allowed to join together and pool their risk to keep costs low like big corporations and labor unions are able to do. We could also increase competition among insurers, resulting in lower premiums for families and individuals. The individual mandate in the ACA actually decreases competition. By forcing citizens to pay a tax if they don’t have an insurance plan, the government removes the incentive for insurance companies to provide affordable, effective health care. Those insurance companies now get guaranteed business.
This is not just a matter of personal health -- it’s a matter of economic health, too. We cannot realistically solve our economic issues without a serious plan that addresses providing affordable and accessible care. I refuse to abandon our need to fix the cost and confusion issues that will impact the residents of Southwest Washington, because they deserve better.
Jaime Herrera Beutler is the U.S. Representative for Washington's 3rd congressional district.