Government to step in if insurance companies don't offer affordable health care choices
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Aetna’s recent decision to scale back its presence in the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges presents a unique challenge to the American people. But, in the spirit of an old aphorism often attributed to Winston Churchill, “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing - after they've tried everything else.”

After trying for years to collaborate with the insurance companies, it is clear that playing nice isn’t working. It’s time to do the right thing and push back against the insurance industry and its greed.

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Aetna’s original announcement came as a surprise to many observers. As recently as May, the insurer was telling the public that not only would it continue to offer coverage through the exchanges, it actually hoped to expand its exchange footprint.

But now we know the truth: in a recently released letter, Aetna explicitly threatened to withdraw from the exchanges if the Department of Justice challenged the company’s proposed merger with Humana. Now that an antitrust lawsuit has been filed, Anthem has followed through on its threat.

In light of the evidence that Aetna will withdraw even in profitable markets in Pennsylvania, it’s hard to view this as simply a business decision. Aetna’s actions look more like a direct retaliation against the Department of Justice for enforcing the law.

This is disturbing, but it should come as no surprise. The insurance industry has a grip on the American public that it wants to tighten through massive consolidation.

In recent years we have seen astonishing proposals for health industry mergers that are unprecedented in scale. This consolidation threatens to deprive consumers of meaningful choices, roll back the progress we have made under the Affordable Care Act, and undermine the sustainability of the health care system.

Unfortunately, the Congress has utterly failed to protect consumers from this threat. Under Republican control, there has been almost no attention paid to consolidation – and we shouldn’t expect that to change anytime soon. The Committee on Ways and Means, which has jurisdiction over a number of federal programs that are directly impacted by health industry consolidation, has not held a single hearing on this issue in nearly five years.

This fight is far from over. If we are to continue to rely on private insurers for health coverage, robust competition is crucial to keeping prices down. That is the central tenant of the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges, and the next president and attorney general will have to deal with this issue. It won’t be easy.

However, there is a silver lining. It is entirely possible that we are simply witnessing a natural evolution that has occurred repeatedly throughout American history. Time and again, the private sector fails to provide basic services, and the federal government has had to step in.

When the insurance companies wouldn’t cover the poor and the elderly, we created Medicaid and Medicare. When employers failed to provide workers with reliable pensions, we created Social Security. And if insurance companies continue to deny Americans affordable health care choices, the government is going to step in again – either through a public option or a single-payer system.

The American people see plainly that insurance industry greed isn’t working for them and the time to do the right thing is getting closer. As Winston Churchill might have said—it is the American way.

Jim McDermottJames (Jim) Adelbert McDermottLobbying World Dem lawmaker: Israel's accusations start of 'war on the American government' Dem to Trump on House floor: ‘Stop tweeting’ MORE is a member of congress from Seattle and the ranking member of the Health Subcommittee on the House Committee on Ways & Means. 


The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.