Guest Opinion: This must be the health care congress


Gage Miskimen

The U.S. Capitol is seen on March 13, 2018.

By Iowa Rep. Liz Bennett, D-Cedar Rapids

Just days after the new 116th Congress began, Republicans’ efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) have been on full view for all once again.

House Democrats introduced a resolution authorizing the House Counsel to intervene in a Texas lawsuit filed by Republican state officials and backed by the Trump Administration. The suit, which won in December and will likely face a number of appeals, would dissolve the ACA in its entirety, which would be worse than any repeal bill that has come before Congress.

Every Democrat voted to intervene in the lawsuit to defend the ACA and its vital consumer protections, including Iowa members of congress Axne, Finkenauer, and Loebsack. But nearly every Republican opposed the resolution, reaffirming their opposition to quality, affordable health care for Iowans. What makes this vote even more surprising is that it is the first health care vote since the American people showed up to the polls in historic numbers and sent Congress a clear mandate: end the relentless war on health care.

There is no question that health care was the issue propelling the Democratic majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, leading to the largest party flip in the House in decades. Polling showed health care was the number-one issue by far, and Democrats won those voters 77 percent to 22 percent. Thirty four Republican members of Congress who voted for ACA repeal lost their seats or retired before voters had a chance to vote them out of office.

The new Democratic majority in the House means that legislative repeal efforts are effectively over, but Republicans will continued their refusal to support the ACA’s protections, just as they did with their votes against this resolution. And their persistence shows that our health care remains under threat. Defying the voices of the American people, Republicans show no sign of ending their relentless war to sabotage the American people’s health care.

Iowans and Americans have demanded access to quality, affordable coverage at the ballot box and millions in our state and across the country deserve to have this year’s Congress be the “Health Care Congress.”

What would that mean, for this to be the Health Care Congress?

First,Congress should do everything possible to overturn last year’s federal court decision that struck down the ACA, which President Trump has repeatedly celebrated and which has faced virtually no opposition from Senator Ernst and other Republican members of Congress. A first step would include passing a Senate Resolution to similar to the House measure that authorizes the House legal counsel to intervene in the lawsuit, as well as oppose GOP attempts to continue the war on health care through the courts. Senators Ernst and Grassley should use their positions of leadership to advocate for such a resolution.

The Health Care Congress also has to end the Republican war on people with pre-existing conditions. Almost everyone agrees that these protections should exist, yet the Trump Administration has continued creating rules that allow states and insurance companies to skirt it. The Health Care Congress must stop insurance companies from selling long-term junk health insurance that allows them to deny quality, affordable coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. And health care costs are simply unsustainable for hardworking families, who are already living paycheck to paycheck. Congress must focus on legislation that lowers the cost of prescription drugs, ending surprise medical bills, expanding financial assistance by expanding eligibility for premium tax credits, and expanding services before deductibles.

Finally, the Health Care Congress can and should strengthen Medicaid and Medicare. Aside from extending and increasing federal funding for Medicaid expansion, they can improve Medicare’s affordability by adding an out-of-pocket maximum for older Americans.

In order to represent their constituents, the 116th Congress must become “The Health Care Congress.” And the House of Representatives is poised to deliver for the people. All that’s needed is for Republicans like Senators Joni Ernst, Chuck Grassley, and Congressman Steve King to read the writing on the wall from November, end their war on health care once and for all, and come to the table to find common sense solutions that improve the health care system for all Americans.

Liz Bennett serves in the Iowa House of Representatives and lives in Cedar Rapids.