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DURBIN: Congress should take steps to improve Affordable Care Act

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 19: Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and ranking member Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) confer during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee hearing on Capitol Hill Thursday in Washington, DCs. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Voting for the Affordable Care Act in 2010 was one of the most meaningful votes I have ever cast. And while the only perfect laws ever created were the ones brought down from Mount Sinai on stone tablets, the ACA is responsible for many improvements to our health care system, most significantly ensuring 20 million Americans gained health insurance and cutting the uninsured rate in Illinois by nearly half.

OPINION

The ACA also included many insurance reforms to protect Illinoisans — including prohibiting insurance companies from: charging women more than men for the same coverage; imposing annual or lifetime caps on benefits; denying maternity, mental health, or substance abuse treatment coverage; charging seniors exorbitantly higher premiums than younger people; and denying insurance to people with pre-existing conditions. Finally, thanks to the ACA, young Illinoisans are now allowed to stay on their parents’ health plans until age 26 and the solvency of Medicare has been extended by over a decade.

The ACA is not without its faults and Congress should take steps to improve upon the law. But rather than working on a bipartisan basis to lower costs and further expand coverage, congressional Republicans have instead dedicated the past nine months to an unsuccessful and unpopular campaign to repeal the ACA. The constant rhetoric and legislative threat of repeal — combined with the ongoing and constant efforts of President Donald Trump to undermine and sabotage the law — have created tremendous year-long uncertainty for American families, especially the approximately 12 million Americans and 350,000 Illinoisans who purchase their health insurance in the individual market.

From his very first day in office, President Trump has orchestrated a deliberate campaign to sabotage the ACA — issuing an executive order instructing federal agencies not to enforce the law; cutting the open enrollment period in half; cancelling television and radio ads that educated people about how to enroll for insurance; slashing funding for patient navigators and outreach efforts; and refusing to pay the cost-sharing reduction subsidies that help keep health care costs lower for working families, which will increase individual market premiums 20 percent next year alone.

To ensure Illinoisans are aware of congressional Republicans’ and President Trump’s cruel efforts and the effects they could have on the nearly 13 million people living in this state, I’ve put together a report – “1,000 Cuts: A Report on the Trump Administrations’ Health Care Sabotage” – that examines the repeated actions by the Trump Administration to undermine the ACA, and the resulting impact on Illinois consumers, patients, and families. Further, the report provides useful information for Illinoisans looking to sign up for health insurance coverage next year.

I’ve worked all year to oppose legislative efforts to repeal the ACA, which would have had devastating impacts on our patients, hospitals, and economy. I’ve also worked to shield Illinoisans from President Trump’s reckless actions, including my efforts successfully urging our state Department of Insurance to structure coverage plans in a way that maximizes federal subsidies to keep costs down.

The grim outcomes outlined in my report don’t have to become reality. Democrats stand ready and willing to work together on bipartisan solutions to strengthen our current health care system. There are common-sense steps we could take right now to improve the individual markets, like those envisioned in the compromise bill released last week by Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander and Democrat Sen. Patty Murray. It’s time for Congress to get back to those bipartisan discussions, back to regular order, and back to working together to help the people we represent. It’s certainly better than the alternative — a Congress deeply divided with one party actively trying to sabotage our health care system to make a political point.

Dick Durbin is a U.S. senator from Illinois.

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