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Pallone unveils legislation to expand the Affordable Care Act

June 25, 2020
In The News

House Democrats led by two New Jersey lawmakers on Wednesday introduced legislation to expand the Affordable Care Act at the same time that President Donald Trump has asked the Supreme Court to kill it.

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. and other Democrats pushed Wednesday to return to the No. 1 issue on voters’ minds two years ago when Democrats won a House majority that they are favored to retain this fall. Four New Jersey congressional districts flipped to blue from red in the 2018 midterms.

Pallone, D-6th Dist., said the Congressional Budget Office found that the legislation would provide health coverage for 4 million more Americans and lower premiums by an average of 10%.

“We’re trying to increase access and at the same time deal with affordability so that people can afford their health insurance,” Pallone said.

Nowhere was health care a bigger issue two years ago than in New Jersey’s 3rd Congressional District, where Democrat Andy Kim narrowly ousted Republican Rep. Tom MacArthur.

MacArthur had played a major role in drafting the House GOP repeal bill that would have left 23 million more Americans without insurance. The repeal effort failed by one vote in the Senate.

No surprise then that Kim, rated as New Jersey’s most endangered House incumbent, spoke alongside Pallone, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and other lawmakers at a Capitol press conference on Wednesday.

“It is insane that in the middle of a pandemic, our health care in our country is under attack,” Kim said. “Taking away health care from Americans in the middle of a pandemic is as absurd as saying we should be slowing down testing of the coronavirus when thousands are dying.”

New Jersey reported 169,892 confirmed coronavirus cases on Wednesday, behind only New York.

The bill introduced Wednesday would make more Americans eligible for tax credits and increases the amount they would receive, create a national reinsurance program that would help cover patients with high medical costs, and pay 100% of the costs of expanding Medicaid for every state that hasn’t done it so far.

The measure also would provide federal aid to states to help them lower deductibles and out-of-pocket costs, and to help them set up their own marketplaces, as New Jersey is doing.

And it blocks Trump administration efforts to expand the availability insurance plans that not provide all benefits required under the ACA, most notably coverage for pre-existing conditions.

The bill would allow Medicare to negotiate with drug companies to hold down costs, make those lower prices available to those with private insurance, and use the savings to fund the Medicaid expansion and higher subsidies.

“It’s a win-win all around,” Pallone said.

The provision on Medicare drugs mirrored Pallone-sponsored legislation passed by the House in December. AARP, the senior citizens’ lobby, said that in 2017, 24% of New Jersey residents couldn’t afford to take their prescribed medications.

With millions of Americans losing their jobs and their insurance due the coronavirus-induced recession, the bill offers House Democrats a chance to contrast their efforts to expand coverage with Republican efforts to kill the law altogether. Newly unemployed workers can obtain insurance through the ACA at healthcare.gov

Trump and several Republican-run states have asked the Supreme Court to throw out the Affordable Care Act, including its protections for those with pre-existing conditions, the expansion of Medicaid, and the subsidies that make insurance affordable for millions of Americans.

New Jersey and other Democratic-run states have asked the Supreme Court to uphold the law.

Some 595,000 additional New Jerseyans would be without health coverage and another 181,000 would lose their tax credits if Trump succeeds, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a progressive research group.

In a Quinnipiac University poll released last week, 56% of Americans disapproved of the way Trump was handling health care, compared with 39% who approved. And 55% said presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden would do a better job on health care, while 41% said Trump.

And a Kaiser Family Foundation survey last month said Americans approved of the health care law by 51% to 41%.