Here are some bipartisan solutions for fixing ObamaCare
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Thanks to the courage of three Republican Senators and a united Democratic party, our nation’s poor, sick, and elderly dodged a major bullet last week. The stunning defeat of ObamaCare repeal legislation in the Senate presents an opportunity to fix our healthcare system on a bipartisan basis. That is, of course, far preferable to President Trump’s grossly irresponsible threat to let ObamaCare collapse by continuing to actively undermine it.

We and other seniors’ advocacy organizations have long argued that repealing ObamaCare (or allowing it to collapse) would hurt our most vulnerable citizens, while conceding that the law isn’t perfect and needs adjusting.  President Obama himself believed this, but the opposition preferred to spend the past seven years voting for repeal more than 50 times — instead of improving the law as befits a party ready to govern.

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Finally, this week, there is cause for optimism. The Problem Solvers Caucus (43 House members divided roughly evenly between Republicans and Democrats) presented a plan to fix — not repeal — ObamaCare.  Some facets of the Problem Solvers’ plan are excellent, some problematic. 

 

But unlike the repeal-and-replace legislation that thankfully failed, the new plan does not gut Medicaid, make premiums unaffordable for older Americans, reduce the solvency of Medicare, or punish people with pre-existing conditions.

These lawmakers have eschewed the wrecking ball in favor of constructive tools to make people’s lives better. “We need to fix [ ObamaCare], not throw things out,” the Democratic co-chair of the Problem Solvers told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Tuesday. “Instead of screaming at each other, now we have someplace to start, to move forward. It’s about helping seniors, helping families.”  Exactly.

A Republican member of the Problem Solvers told Blitzer that the group’s priority is “stabilization and relief” for the individual health insurance markets.  The Problem Solvers’ proposal achieves this in part by “ensuring that the federal government continues cost-sharing payments to insurance companies that President Trump has threatened to cut off.” These payments help low-income Americans afford their deductibles and co-pays.  

Guaranteeing that cost-sharing payments will continue — along with other measures like reviving ObamaCare’s re-insurance system for high-risk populations — would likely lower premiums and entice more insurers into the individual market in places where competition is lacking. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, stabilizing federal subsidies could reduce premiums by 15-20 percent. 

In an Op-Ed in the Las Vegas Sun this week, Problem Solvers member Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) outlined a five-point plan including cost-sharing subsidies and reinsurance, along with repealing some  ObamaCare taxes and allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices with pharmaceutical companies — which could ultimately lower medical costs for everyone. 

We do not agree with every fix being offered, but as Rep. Titus says, “Leaving millions without access to affordable and reliable health coverage is not the way forward.” The best fixes will require good-faith negotiation and old fashioned give-and-take. 

For our part, we encourage bipartisan solutions that advance the following broad principles:

  1. All Americans can access and afford quality health insurance regardless of age or health status;
  2. ObamaCare’s landmark improvements to the individual health insurance market (including essential benefits and protection for people with pre-existing conditions) are preserved;
  3. Medicare and Medicaid are strengthened, not weakened or cut.

Whether the leadership in Congress will give these ideas a fair shake is far from assured. But at least reasonable people on Capitol Hill are responding to their constituents’ pleas for bipartisanship and common sense on this issue.  With millions of Americans waiting to find out if they will still have health coverage in 2018, some lawmakers are actually doing what they were elected to do. It’s called governing.

Max Richtman is president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. He is former staff director of the Senate Select Committee on Aging.


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