Opinion Pieces

Columbian: Fight needs to continue for better health care solution

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Vancouver, April 5, 2017 | comments
Recently, the U.S. House of Representatives delayed a vote on its plan to replace Obamacare. This was the right move. While Southwest Washington residents deserve better health care options at prices they can afford from doctors and providers they like, this particular replacement plan — the American Health Care Act — needed more work to achieve those goals.
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Recently, the U.S. House of Representatives delayed a vote on its plan to replace Obamacare. This was the right move. While Southwest Washington residents deserve better health care options at prices they can afford from doctors and providers they like, this particular replacement plan — the American Health Care Act — needed more work to achieve those goals.

Whether you cheered the fate of this particular bill on Capitol Hill or not, the reality in Southwest Washington hasn’t changed: Our health care system remains broken. In Klickitat County and many others across the country, there is only one insurance provider under Obamacare. Costs have risen for middle-income families, and they keep rising. The Medicaid safety net — created to serve those who have hit hard times and their children — is being stretched to the point of breaking. The failure of the vote in Congress does nothing to help the Vancouver Clinic and other doctors offices, for example, that have had to reduce the number of Medicaid patients they see because the finances simply don’t pencil out.

So, whether we see the American Health Care Act in Congress again or not, I will continue to fight for solutions to our health care crisis. Here are some of my efforts to improve health care that we should pass into law without delay.

Reducing costs, increasing choices

Congress should immediately move ahead with free-market reforms that increase competition between insurance providers and drive down out-of-pocket costs. The House has passed a bill that I helped shape to protect Association Health Plans. These powerful tools equip small businesses in Washington to voluntarily provide high-quality, affordable health care to hundreds of thousands of people. More than 400,000 individuals in Washington alone are covered by these plans.

Similar to what big businesses and labor unions do, these small-business health plans allow several businesses to band together and negotiate for better rates and benefits. Many small businesses operate with few resources and thin profit margins and would not be able to offer health benefits without this option.

In the case of one Association Health Plan operating in Washington, roughly 40 percent of participating small employers did not offer health coverage prior to its existence.

We also should drive down costs by allowing companies and individuals to purchase insurance plans from other states that would better meet their needs and pocketbooks. Anything we can do to increase competition in the marketplace and force insurers to compete for your business helps reduce costs.

Protecting the vulnerable

One critical portion of any future effort to fix health care is to make sure people with pre-existing conditions aren’t priced out of or denied care. I have championed the Pre-Existing Protection Act of 2017 that would make sure that never happens again.

We must also make sure that the Medicaid safety net is strong for those who truly need it — individuals with disabilities, the folks who have hit hard economic times and have urgent medical needs, and especially the children of those families. One major flaw in the American Health Care Act was that it put these kids at risk.

My effort to make sure the 30 million kids who receive care through this safety net was not included in the bill — but I won’t give up. I’ll fight to make sure any future Obamacare replacement plan keeps the core purpose of Medicaid intact: providing a medical lifeline for vulnerable children.

And whether we move forward with a replacement now or later, we can take bipartisan, common sense steps to strengthen Medicaid today. My bill, the ACE Kids Act, would help remove barriers that limit families using Medicaid based solely on their ZIP code. The ACE Kids Act also better coordinates medical care for children with medical complexities, all while saving millions of taxpayer dollars.

Improving mental health treatment is a vital need as well. My bipartisan Mental Health and Substance Abuse Treatment Accessibility Act would put more resources in our community for those battling addiction or mental illness — again, without costing taxpayers.

Improving quality of care

While technology and medical advancements allow us to live longer and healthier lives, the U.S. is actually lagging farther behind in one surprising category: Maternal mortality. Unlike in any other industrialized nation, the U.S. is seeing a rise in pregnancy-related deaths. I’ve championed a bipartisan bill to help reverse this trend by creating state-based committees to study and advance solutions to save more mothers and babies from life-threatening, pregnancy-related complications.

The American Health Care Act was not the right solution as written, but we can’t afford to turn our attention away from the massive challenges that are making health care too expensive and too inaccessible for tens of thousands of Southwest Washington residents. Congress can and should pursue solutions to these challenges — and I’ll keep fighting until we do.

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