When Congressional Republicans failed in their second attempt to pass legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act in September, many hoped the fight over health care was finished.
Unfortunately, it was just the beginning.
Republicans in Washington are as persistent as they are wrong in their efforts to roll back health insurance coverage for millions of Americans who need it.
And they think because we are inundated with so much other news, we aren’t paying attention.
But we are, especially in Cook County, where almost 500,000 of our relatives, friends and neighbors have health insurance because of the Affordable Care Act. As Cook County president, one of my primary responsibilities is to help oversee the Cook County Health and Hospitals System, which accounts for approximately half of the county’s budget, so I understand how this sea change in coverage affects our residents every day.
Repealing the individual mandate — which is the heart of the Affordable Care Act’s marketplace health system — would mean that 13 million Americans would lose insurance over the next decade, according to Congress’s non-partisan budget scorekeeper. And Republicans think they can take that coverage away through a provision in a massive tax bill that already disproportionally hurts the most vulnerable Americans while giving huge tax breaks to the wealthiest.
As Republicans in the House and Senate try to merge their two bills before the new year, we must let our representatives know that we oppose such a drastic action.
Meanwhile, as this tax plan would cost our government more than $1 trillion over the next decade, Republicans say we cannot afford to reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program, commonly known as CHIP, which provides health insurance to approximately 9 million American children who otherwise could not afford it.
It has been more than 70 days since Congress let CHIP authorization lapse, and every day that passes without action, is a day closer to normalizing not having the program altogether.
In Illinois, this means that 225,000 children would lose health insurance.
Making sure Americans are insured is not just morally right, it’s also fiscally responsible. What we’ve seen since the Affordable Care Act was implemented is that the Cook County taxpayer obligation for our Health and Hospitals System, which provides care to everyone regardless of ability to pay, has gone down by more than 75 percent, from more than $480 million in 2010 to $110 million this fiscal year.
Ultimately, as Americans, Illinoisans and residents of Cook County, we must decide whether we believe access to affordable health care is a universal right. And then we must fight for that position.
I believe it is, and I am committed to fighting every day for the Cook County residents who need quality, affordable health care.
Toni Preckwinkle is president of the Cook County Board of Commissioners, first elected to the office in 2010.
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