Opinion

New York’s Republicans must resist the Obamacare repeal and replace effort

By Elisabeth Benjamin |  

September 26, 2017 |  

U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC). (Albert H. Teich/Shutterstock)

The Affordable Care Act has benefited New York enormously: between 2013 and 2016, 1 million New Yorkers gained coverage, bringing our uninsured rate to an all-time low of just six percent.

Through this law, millions of New Yorkers have been able to enroll in high quality affordable health care offered by the New York State of Health Marketplace in the form of Medicaid, the Essential Plan or commercial plans. Studies demonstrate that health coverage brings economic stability and alleviates stress for low- and moderate-income families. Household bankruptcies are at their lowest levels in decades. In addition, the Affordable Care Act has helped improve the broader New York economy by stabilizing our robust health care industry.

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For much of this year, Congressional Republicans have been fixated on repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, with each bill seemingly more draconian than the last. The latest effort, Graham-Cassidy, is by far the worst for New York: it completely eliminates the Basic Health Plan (renamed the Essential Plan in New York), which offers excellent coverage for $46 or less to 700,000 New Yorkers. It guts our Medicaid program, which covers 6 million low-income children, individuals, families, and people with disabilities. And it slashes vital funding for safety net hospitals, like New York City’s Health + Hospitals.

Finally, as the nighttime talk show host Jimmy Kimmel so eloquently notes, this bill would undermine the landmark consumer insurance protections that all Americans have gained under the Affordable Care Act. It would return us all to a Wild West market in which insurance companies could discriminate against patients with pre-existing conditions, charging them more or imposing lifetime and annual benefit caps that render coverage useless to anyone that actually gets sick.

Disturbingly, Republicans in Washington appear to be on a vindictive campaign to do damage to New York and any other state that has embraced the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Republican Senator Rand Paul nailed it in a remarkably candid NPR interview last week: “The whole thing has nothing to do with repeal. It has to do with keeping Obamacare and simply messing with the Democrats by taking the money from Democrat states and giving it to Republican states.” In fact, nearly 24 percent of all the bill’s cuts come from New York alone, according to an analysis by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.

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How have New York’s nine Republican members of Congress reacted? A few, most notably Rep. Daniel Donovan of Staten Island and John Katko of the Syracuse region, have bravely broken ranks and come out against the repeal efforts. However, most of the others have either offered full-throated support of these efforts squarely against their own constituents’ interests, or have expressed tepid concern about tweaking the bill. These representatives must do more for New York, as the state cannot sustain a $19 billion funding cut that accelerates to $33 billion by 2027. New Yorkers cannot go back to the bad old pre-ACA days of 3 million uninsured and health care premiums soaring to $1,200 a month for one person.

Even if Senators Paul, McCain and Collins remain firm in their opposition, and the bill dies this week, consumers are not yet safe. After announcing the Graham-Cassidy bill would not come up for a vote on Tuesday, Senator Lindsey Graham declared that he and his fellow sponsors would “take this show on the road” to sell the legislation to the American people. Instead of moving on to commonsense, bipartisan solutions that would stabilize markets and bring down insurance prices for everyone – which was a focus of Republican Senator Lamar Alexander and Democratic Senator Patty Murray as recently as last week – they now threaten to continue to sustain the parliamentary “reconciliation” process for the next federal fiscal year.

We’ve seen nine months of the repeal and replace rodeo. It is in the power of our state’s nine-member Republic delegation to go to Congressional leaders and tell them that this is one bronco our state can no longer afford to ride.

Elisabeth R. Benjamin is vice president for health initiatives at the Community Service Society of New York and a co-founder of Health Care for All New York.

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