April 21, 2017

Introduction of the CHOICE Act

Mr. President, Republicans in Congress have been on the warpath for a long time to repeal the Affordable Care Act. In fact, in this new Congress, their first order of business has been to pave the way for dismantling this law. Despite the fact that 20 million Americans have gained health insurance coverage thanks to this law, despite people no longer being denied coverage for preexisting conditions, despite big savings in health care costs, and despite everyone with insurance being able to access important preventive health services for free, my Republican colleagues have decided to repeal it. And, after 7 years to get ready, they have no replacement, not even a path to a replacement at this point.

Yes, they are set on repealing a law that has provided both health and financial security to millions of Americans, with no replacement in sight, just at this point some empty IOU for some future piece of legislation that may or may not be any good. It is a little like being asked to jump out of an airplane without a parachute and being told: Trust us. We will build the parachute for you before you hit the ground.

We don’t know what this nonexistent Republican replacement would look like, but we sure do know what a repeal would do; it would gut health insurance premium tax credits that help millions of Americans obtain health insurance they could not otherwise afford. It would unwind an expansion of the Medicaid Program that covers millions more Americans in some 30 States that have chosen to participate, casting tens of millions of Americans–men, women, and children–out of their health insurance.

At the same time, it would deliver an enormous tax boon to millionaires and billionaires, as usual for Republicans, by repealing the revenue we used to pay for ObamaCare. This tax boon is a 16-percent reduction in the taxes owed by millionaires and billionaires on their investment income.

Republicans want to take health insurance away from tens of millions of ordinary Americans and simultaneously reward those at the very top of the income pile with a big tax benefit. So much for all the talk we have heard from Republicans about the deficit.

At least in Rhode Island, the Affordable Care Act is working. The law launched accountable care organizations that are improving care while lowering costs. In Rhode Island, Coastal Medical and Integra Community Care Network–two primary care-focused ACOs–are not only driving down per person health expenditures but achieving high marks on quality and on patient experience. In total, Coastal has saved $24 million over 3 years and Integra has saved $4 million in its first year as an ACO.

The Affordable Care Act also has protected seniors from the dreaded drug price doughnut hole, and I can tell you I heard a lot about the doughnut hole from seniors in Rhode Island when I was running for the Senate. The Affordable Care Act has protected families where someone had a chronic condition and couldn’t get insurance, and the Affordable Care Act has prevented insurers from throwing customers off coverage when they get sick.

It is true that some of the health insurance exchanges haven’t attracted enough competition. We can fix that. Indeed, to help with that issue, Senators Brown, Franken, and I are today introducing the Consumer Health Options and Insurance Competition Enhancement Act, or the CHOICE Act, to add a public health insurance option to the health insurance exchanges. This public option would guarantee that consumers always have an affordable, high-quality option when shopping for health insurance and a strong health care fallback when markets fail.

ObamaCare may not be perfect, but it has done an awful lot of good. Millions of Americans who lacked insurance now have it, and the rate of uninsured Americans has fallen to 8.6 percent, about half of what it was in 2010. Projected Federal health care costs are down nearly $3 trillion.

Instead of demolishing a system that works well for millions of Americans with no replacement on the horizon, let’s use our proposal to make it better. Let’s add a public option to our health insurance exchanges.