By Rep. Michael C. Burgess More than five years after Congress passed the Affordable Care Act on the narrowest of party lines, Americans continue to call for a better health care system. As a physician I couldn’t agree more, and as a congressman I know it is my job to stand up for these concerned voices. With the 2016 presidential election approaching quickly we are nearing a critical time. Whoever wins the White House will inherit a health care mess, and it is important that this election Americans have a clear sense of the candidates’ positions.
We do not yet know who will represent the Republican Party in the general election, but we do know whoever it is will push for substantial health care reform. I am deeply concerned that another Democrat commander-in-chief will once again fail to fix our health care disaster. Hillary Rodham Clinton is still the leading name on the left side of the ticket, and it is quite clear her position on health care will confirm my fears.
Clinton has a long and vocal history on health care, but so far on the campaign trail she has been curiously quiet on the issue. Rumors suggest she may make her thoughts public as soon as later this week. Before she makes her specific positions public, we need to look back at her previous statements to get a sense of how she would approach the Affordable Care Act as president.
Clinton’s position on health care is firmly established and began when she served as first lady. Back in the early 1990s she took on a partisan approach to universal health care and was hit with enormous push back and eventual defeat. The rejected bill, the Health Security Act, ultimately served as a model for the Affordable Care Act, and despite a completely different role as secretary of State, Clinton remained deeply committed to its passage.
In 2009 when health care reform dominated the headlines, Clinton was formally entrenched in foreign affairs. It would be strange, if not inappropriate for the secretary of State to advise Congress on domestic health care matters. But this is exactly what Clinton did. In a series of recovered emails, it was revealed that Clinton made personal phone calls to members of Congress urging them to approve the law. Additional emails with State advisors expressed satisfaction over the “win”.
In the immediate aftermath of passing the Affordable Care Act Democrats glowed in triumph and declared a new era of effective health care in America. As more people actually read the bill and some matters came into effect it became clear to many of these Democrats that our health care disorder had not been cured. Despite growing rumblings among her Democratic colleagues for more reform, Clinton remained a staunch supporter and even urged them to campaign on the law in 2014.
The question in 2016 is whether Clinton will continue to champion Obama’s disastrous law. When asked on the campaign trail about health care reform she has walked a delicate line by vaguely calling for good parts of the bill to stay and bad parts to be changed. When pressed, she has said she will “examine” issues like the “Cadillac tax”, medical device tax and cross-state insurance sales. Having been so vocal in the past her sudden silence and ambiguity has many wondering if after five years she too has realized the Affordable Care Act does more harm than good.
I would welcome a conversation with Clinton on reform, particularly regarding allowing insurance companies to work across state lines. Unfortunately, I do not believe this meeting will happen. Clinton may be opening up the discussion on health care on the campaign trail, but if elected to office I anticipate she would follow her well documented position on issue. Her recent reluctance to talk health care specifics indicates she is simply trying to mitigate the backlash over the bill’s failures by stalling.
It is highly unlikely that once in office Clinton would dismantle the very provisions she has fought for over two decades. Perhaps on the campaign trail she is entertaining the possibility, but if elected to office the pressures to conform would vanish and she could continue supporting a bill that is wreaking havoc on our already ailing health care system. We need a president who is committed to fixing problems, and with Clinton it is apparent what we would get is just more of the same broken system.
Rep. Michael C. Burgess, R-Texas, serves as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade. He is also a member of the Subcommittees on Health and Oversight and Investigations.