Even in a time of impeachment, health care is on the agenda
As we begin 2020, the impeachment cloud continues to hang over Washington. The House vote and the president’s defiant response has dominated the headlines, and that won’t change in the new year with the prospect of a likely Senate trial in the next few weeks. The cloud of controversy threatens to keep members of Congress from working on many of the nation’s problems they were hired to solve.
There is one issue, however, that lawmakers can’t avoid during this impeachment fight — health care. With every American experiencing higher deductibles and higher out-of-pocket costs, polls consistently show health care remains the first or second most important issue to voters. Any lawmaker that ignores the issue does so at their peril.
So it should not come as a surprise that both the House and the Senate just approved long-awaited reforms like the end of the Cadillac tax on high-cost health plans, as well as the repeal of two other taxes that make health coverage even more expensive. In the New Year, Republicans and Democrats in Congress are also expected to pursue additional measures to end surprise billing, lower the cost of prescription drugs, and enhance drug price transparency. They should not stop there.
2020 is the moment for Congress to take the bold step of expanding Americans’ access to Health Savings Accounts. There are now 30 million “HSAs” in the U.S. covering millions of families, and the number of people signing up for these tax-free accounts grows 20- to 30-percent every year.
Why are more Americans turning to HSAs? The answer is because they provide much needed financial flexibility. You keep the funds in your Health Savings Account until you need it. There is “no use it or lose it” with an HSA. You own the money. The problem is there are still too many restrictions limiting how you can use an HSA. Lawmakers can change that and provide much-needed relief to Americans struggling to pay their out-of-pocket health-care bills.
Currently, there are bipartisan proposals to allow HSAs to help families cover the cost of a child’s life-saving inhaler, help women cover the expense of feminine hygiene products such as tampons and pads and help fund Direct Primary Care. These reforms would have a real-world impact on millions of people trying to keep up with the rising cost of health care.
Another bipartisan bill expands Health Savings Accounts to seniors by allowing those on Medicare to continue to contribute to an HSA or open an account for the first time. The Health Savings for Seniors Act, H.R. 3796, sponsored by House Republicans Jason Smith (R-Miss.) and Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) and Democrats Ami Bera (D-Calif.) and Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.) is the single fastest way to bring the most significant number of seniors relief from high out-of-pocket costs.
This bill and the other HSA proposals on the table give Congress the chance to deliver on reforms that truly help Americans lower their health-care costs. In this election year, that would be an achievement candidate in both parties can campaign on, knowing they are responding to the concerns of their constituents and legislating in the public interest.
As the dust settles on the New Year’s fireworks, let’s all tell Congress to fully embrace HSAs and give Americans the affordable health care they need with the choices they deserve.
J. Kevin A. McKechnie is the executive director of the Health Savings Account Council and senior vice president for the Office of Insurance Advocacy at the American Bankers Association.
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