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OPINION

Defending health care means strengthening, not repealing, current protections

Cindy Axne - Representative for Iowa's Third Congressional District
U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne listens to local business and city leaders during an August visit to Perry. Andrew Brown/The Perry Chief

This year’s uncertainty and unpredictability has tested our communities and pushed our families to the limit. From a devastating derecho that cut through the state to an unrelenting pandemic that continues to upend our daily lives, shutter local small businesses, and batter our economy, folks from Council Bluffs to Des Moines and everywhere in between have shared with me their struggles to stay healthy and financially stable. 

At a time when our families and neighbors are trying to keep their family fed, housed, and protected from COVID-19 – they should not have to lie awake in the middle of the night concerned about the possibility that their government is working to take away their health insurance. But the sad fact is that efforts to take away health care for 230,000 Iowans are still at work in Washington.

On November 10th, the Supreme Court is set to consider a legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act – one which threatens to bring us back to time when Americans with pre-existing conditions were denied healthcare coverage and families having to choose between coverage plans that either aren’t affordable or don’t cover essential services.

Even in the middle of a global pandemic, where access to health care is more important than perhaps any other single moment in the past century, the Department of Justice and the Trump Administration are still fighting to eliminate the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

To be clear, this is not a new effort. Congress has voted 60 times to repeal the ACA, including the dead-of-night vote three years ago where Senator John McCain gave perhaps the most famous thumbs-down since Gladiator. But to continue to pursue this repeal now – using government lawyers and taxpayer dollars – is the abhorrent and complete opposite of what our government should be focused on.

While the ACA is far from perfect, it is foundational to how our health care system is built; removing it now would collapse many layers of protections American families rely on. Not only would the uninsured rate in Iowa more than double, over 20 million Americans would lose health insurance coverage nationwide. We’d lose required coverage of essential health benefits, protections for patients with pre-existing conditions, subsidies to afford health insurance, and free preventive health screenings. All of these are at risk should the lawsuit succeed.

There are improvements that must be made, but our answer should not be to tear it all down and take us back to a world without the ACA. I remember those days – selling family items on eBay to cover medical bills and scrambling when health insurance companies dropped us and thousands of others with no warning. That’s why I’m working to improve the ACA, and make sure we’re expanding affordable coverage for families.

Since the ACA was enacted, previous Congresses have kicked the can down the road on some of the ACA’s tax provisions. I know personally that uncertainty hurts families looking to budget for their health care and other expenses, which is why I successfully fought to repeal two ACA taxes, the Health Insurance Tax and the ‘Cadillac’ Tax, that would have passed along burdensome costs to middle-class families. Repealing these taxes is just one way we can fix the ACA and make it more affordable.

When I learned that the Trump Administration had tinkered with the ACA, changing a formula that would lead to higher premiums and out-of-pocket costs for millions, I led legislation that would reverse these changes and save families $400 a year or more. My bill, the Fair Indexing for Health Care Affordability Act, was part of a package of bills the House advanced to protect those with pre-existing conditions, crack down on “junk” insurance plans, and shore up the ACA.

And I took on the Department of Justice directly, joining my colleagues to successfully pass an amendment to our federal appropriations bills that prevents the Department of Justice from using any taxpayer dollars to support their lawsuit to gut the ACA. A government’s budget reflects its priorities, and we want to be clear with the Attorney General that your money should not be used for this devastating purpose.

My top priority in Congress has always been to ensure access to affordable, high-quality care for Iowans. At a time when we are battling a pandemic and economic fallout, we cannot afford to turn our backs on our seniors, pregnant mothers, children, and families who are continuing to face this crisis. I will continue fighting for Iowans to protect their health and safety as we fight this battle together.

Cindy Axne is the Representative for Iowa’s Third Congressional District. She lives in West Des Moines with her husband and two sons.