It’s Time to Move On With the Affordable Care Act | Commentary
Back in 2009, when we set out to improve our health care system, our primary objectives were clear — to expand coverage to the uninsured and to guarantee that people with insurance would receive the care they need when they got sick.
Today, after five years of the Affordable Care Act, those legislative goals have become a reality for millions of Americans. Thanks to the law’s historic reforms, more than 16 million Americans have gained coverage and the nation’s uninsured rate now stands at 10 percent — its lowest level ever. Up to 129 million Americans who could have otherwise been denied coverage or charged higher premiums because of a pre-existing condition now have access to affordable coverage. Health care costs are rising at a slower pace than at any time in the past 50 years, and $12 billion in health care costs were saved from 2010 to 2013.
The fact that the ACA is working is obvious. But, despite its clear successes, the ACA has faced continuous political assaults from those fixated on unraveling these life-saving reforms.
The most recent attempt to dismantle the law and, ultimately, deny millions of Americans access to health care tax credits, was with King v. Burwell. This blatantly partisan lawsuit, championed by Republicans, was just the latest effort, though. Over the past five years, the ACA has endured constant attacks from Republicans who employed scare tactics in an attempt to obstruct progress. Incendiary rhetoric laced with warnings of death panels, a socialist agenda and Obamacare drowned out all else, including the facts.
But this is nothing new. Republicans made similarly hyperbolic claims in 1935, with the creation of Social Security and again in 1965, with Medicare and Medicaid. These historic reforms, like the ACA, became political lightning rods when opponents recognized their potential to become transformative achievements that demonstrate what government at its best can do — tackle real problems and play a positive role in people’s lives.
Critics of these programs have since come around, though, largely because Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security have proved to be so effective. Today, Medicare provides comprehensive health care coverage to 48 million Americans, including 40 million seniors and 8 million people with disabilities. Medicaid is the health coverage nearly 72 million Americans depend on — covering more than 1 in 3 children and 1 in 7 Medicare beneficiaries, and financing the majority of long-term care in this country. And 1 in 4 American families — about 58 million individuals — rely on Social Security benefits. The Social Security guarantee not only provides vital retirement security for our nation’s seniors, but also allows 9 million disabled Americans and 6.2 million widowed families to make ends meet.
Republicans overcame their initial objections to Medicare and Social Security, and have now come to embrace them. And, while we may still disagree on the size or scope of the Medicaid program, virtually all agree it plays a critical and integrated role in our health care system. This summer, we will celebrate the anniversaries of those landmark social programs — Medicare and Medicaid turn 50 this month and Social Security turns 80 in August. I doubt we will hear Republicans reiterate the overblown criticisms of the 20th century, though. Instead, most on the right now recognize that these programs provide vital protections for every American. They have been woven into the very fabric of our society because they are a promise that our government makes to every citizen. The ACA is a similar guarantee.
It’s time to now come together once again and find sensible ways to build upon the ACA and focus on continuing to improve affordability, quality and access to health care. These are common goals both Republicans and Democrats should be able to unite behind, and I know it is possible to move forward together.
Over the past few months, the Energy and Commerce Committee has proved it is possible to bridge this divide in order to enact meaningful reforms. In March, we crossed party lines to overcome 17 years of inertia and repeal Medicare’s broken doctor payment system and reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program. And just last month, we unanimously passed out of our Committee the 21st Century Cures Act — a series of measures that will improve the process by which new treatments are developed and delivered to patients.
After 60 votes in Congress to repeal or undermine the ACA, two politically-driven challenges to the law that rose to and were dismissed at the highest level of our judicial system, and countless taxpayer-funded time wasted on political efforts, it is time to move on.
It is time to stop using the ACA as a political football and get back to putting policy over partisanship. It’s time to lay to rest the tired, empty calls for repeal and the scare tactics. This partisan fight must end because the ACA is here to stay.
Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., is the ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.