With lives at stake, Congress must start acting on health care

With lives at stake, Congress must start acting on health care
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With midterm elections rapidly approaching, over half of voters say that health care is one of the three most important issues impacting their vote.

Americans across the country, no matter their political leanings, agree that health care needs to be a priority for policymakers.

However, in recent months, Congress has failed to make meaningful moves to address the health concerns experienced by millions of Americans, from high deductibles to ever narrowing coverage networks. If Americans on both sides of the aisle agree that health care must be a priority, why has Congress been silent?


To compound the problem, as Congress fails to take the lead in addressing health care, this administration is eroding the quality and availability of health care across the country, putting families and communities at risk.

Most recently, the administration finalized a rule expanding access to short-term, limited-duration insurance. These short-term plans, which were intended as a stopgap between more comprehensive coverage, will soon be widely available across the country for extended periods of time.

While it’s tempting for patients looking for low monthly premiums, these plans' skimpy coverage, including not covering essential health benefits such as maternity care and mental health treatment, puts consumers in a vulnerable position if they fall ill and actually need health insurance that will pay for their care.

Between expanding access to short-term health plans and eroding preexisting condition protections to pushing to proliferate the use of association health plans, it is clear that having the administration take the lead on the country's health care is detrimental to consumers; it is time for Congress to step in and take action now.

We can't afford to wait, as Americans are feeling the health care pinch more and more every day. Our recent study found that an overwhelming majority of Americans, or 85 percent, are more concerned about the costs of health care than the costs of retirement, higher education, housing, and child care.

When asked about particular pain points, 28 percent of Americans listed the cost of insurance premiums as their top concern and 25 percent of respondents listed out-of-pocket health care costs, like co-pays and deductibles as their primary concerns ‚ that's more than those who said their top concern was hospital expenses (15 percent) or prescription drug costs (12 percent).

As consumers struggle with the high costs of care, health care industry players are reducing their costs without passing the savings they are seeing on to consumers. A few examples of these particularly egregious practices include hospitals offering predatory, "patient financing strategies" which might be based on a higher price than what the patient's insurance company would negotiate for care.

Or insurers denying care for emergencies deemed "unnecessary" after the fact. Also, middlemen encouraging insurers to keep consumers from meeting their deductibles on medication.

All of these practices see industry players pocketing profits, while consumers are caught in the middle, dealing with escalating out-of-pocket costs. So why isn't Congress addressing these issues?

Unfortunately, with an impending Supreme Court Justice nominee, immigration reform, and spending bills atop the Congressional agenda, consumers and their access to affordable health care have taken a back seat.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTrump's legal team huddles with Senate Republicans Schumer briefs Democrats on impeachment trial 'mechanics' Trump legal team gears up for Senate impeachment trial in meeting with GOP senators MORE (R-Ky.) canceled the Senate August recess to address the legislative backlog and Minority Leader Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerOvernight Health Care — Presented by Johnson & Johnson — Democrats call on Supreme Court to block Louisiana abortion law | Michigan governor seeks to pause Medicaid work requirements | New front in fight over Medicaid block grants House, Senate Democrats call on Supreme Court to block Louisiana abortion law Why a second Trump term and a Democratic Congress could be a nightmare scenario for the GOP MORE (D-N.Y.) said Democrats will spend August working on health care legislation to help lower premiums that are expected to rise this fall.

As a Capitol Hill veteran and a long-time consumer health advocate, I am hopeful that bipartisan solutions to address health care in our country can be found. August offers Congress that opportunity. Members should use the weeks ahead to get back to what their constituents care about most — a health-care system they can depend on.

Jim Manley is a former senior advisor to Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidDoctors are dying by suicide every day and we are not talking about it Impeachment trial throws curveball into 2020 race Harry Reid: Early voting states Iowa, New Hampshire 'not representative of the country anymore' MORE (D-Nev.), and a Consumers for Quality Care board member.