By Ken Buck, Doug Lamborn and Scott Tipton
Two weeks into 2017, it is clearer than ever that fixing our nation’s health care system will require a full repeal of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare. This law has failed Coloradans — it hasn’t made health care affordable or accessible.
Our colleagues on the other side of the aisle like to highlight the number of uninsured Americans to measure the success of the ACA, but there is a big difference between people having health insurance and people having true access to health care.
It is time for a reality check.
Health care isn’t affordable or accessible when the cheapest plan comes with an average deductible of more than $6,000, which is what people in the individual market will see this year.
Health care isn’t affordable or accessible when a family has only one insurer to choose from and their premium is more than their mortgage payment, which is becoming a common occurrence across our state.
Health care isn’t affordable when nearly 6 million people choose to pay a fine to remain uninsured rather than enroll in a plan.
In Western Colorado, there are 14 counties where families will have only a single insurance carrier to choose from on the Obamacare exchange. And throughout southern and eastern Colorado, there are 16 counties where families will see an overall average premium increase of more than 40 percent. We are seeing the same trend in employer-based plans, too. Last year, the average annual out-of-pocket cost for a typical family with employer-based coverage jumped to over $4,300. This is simply unacceptable and unsustainable.
How can anyone look at these numbers and say that President Obama’s health care law is working?
We also continue to hear the narrative that repealing Obamacare will take insurance away from millions of Americans overnight. This is untrue for a number of reasons, the first of which was stated above: the number of people with health insurance isn’t a good measure of access to health care when many can’t afford to use the insurance they’ve been forced to purchase.
Secondly, since Obamacare was enacted, the net total of newly-insured Americans is 16.9 million. The biggest gains were made in two categories: employer-sponsored health plans and Medicaid.
We saw 9.6 million Americans gain insurance through their employer, but it is important to remember that the Obamacare employer mandate was delayed during 2014, so it’s hard to credit the law for these gains. Of the 6.5 million people who gained health insurance through Medicaid, 70 percent were already eligible for the program prior to its expansion under the ACA. We can attribute the streamlined application and increased public awareness for these gains — neither of which will go away when we repeal Obamacare.
The second narrative we continue to hear revolves around patients with pre-existing conditions. The existing protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions would continue without Obamacare. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) prohibits insurance companies from denying insurance to any individual who transfers between group markets. This means that if you have a pre-existing condition and you change jobs, your new insurer cannot increase your rates or deny you insurance because of your pre-existing condition.
The Republican plan for replacing Obamacare envisions expanding these HIPAA protections to the individual markets, which should put the minds of parents whose children are living with disabilities or individuals who have experienced jobs loss at ease. Combined with the protections that the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 (COBRA) provides, under the Republican replacement plans, no individual with a pre-existing condition will be denied insurance coverage or see their rates spike. Ensuring that individuals with pre-existing conditions have access to health insurance will continue to be one of our top priorities.
And speaking of replacement plans, the narrative that Republicans have offered no plan to replace Obamacare is false. Republicans have introduced multiple alternative health care plans since 2010, and we encourage you to review them. The most recent replacement plan was offered by the Republican Study Committee, called the American Health Care Reform Act.
Replacing President Obama’s failed health care law will be a difficult and complex process, but we are fully committed to implementing health care reforms that will ensure every Coloradan and American in all corners of the country have access to affordable, patient-centric health care services.
Ken Buck, Mike Coffman, Doug Lamborn and Scott Tipton, are Republican U.S. representatives from Colorado. This column originally appeared in The Denver Post.