Blue Dogs Announce Health Care Priorities
WASHINGTON—Today, the Blue Dog Coalition announced a set of priorities to improve our country’s health care system and increase access to care. The priorities focus on ways to protect the Affordable Care Act, improve it, and build on its success, rather than start from scratch. Additionally, they point out needs that are specific to rural and tribal communities, which do not typically have the same resources as urban areas. The priorities also focus on ways to lower the cost of prescription drugs and combat the opioid epidemic.
Rep. Tom O’Halleran (AZ-01), Blue Dog Co-Chair for Policy and a member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce issued the following statement:
“There is no doubt that our health care system is broken, and Congress has an obligation to work together to pass bipartisan, comprehensive legislation that stabilizes the insurance markets and brings down costs for patients. These priorities put politics aside and provide a roadmap for Congress to solve real, and sometimes life-threatening problems for Americans across the country. As Blue Dogs, we’ll continue to pursue bipartisan solutions to problems, like these, that can be implemented tomorrow—not 20 years from now. We remain committed to finding bipartisan solutions that will last rather than partisan solutions that will be undone by the other political party once they attain power. Americans deserve peace of mind that the policies we implement to protect their access to care will be sustainable rather than a potential victim of partisan politics.”
The Blue Dog Coalition’s Heath Care Priorities are the following:
- Protect and Improve the Affordable Care Act and Stabilize the Health Insurance Marketplace
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) was a major accomplishment in modern U.S. history that delivered the first step toward expanding access to health care to all Americans. Because of the ACA, 20 million Americans gained access to health insurance, insurers can no longer deny coverage for those with pre-existing conditions, and Americans have seen improved health outcomes. While our country has made significant progress, more work needs to be done. Our country can attain the goal of universal health coverage by building on the success of the ACA and by improving that legislation rather than starting from scratch.
We can do that by:
- Strengthening protections for people with pre-existing conditions.
- Giving states the support they need to establish and maintain state-based insurance marketplaces, establish a state-based reinsurance program, and expand health care coverage to the uninsured.
- Stopping the expansion of the Trump Administration’s short-term health plans, otherwise known as junk plans, which discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions, and usually do not provide coverage for essential care.
- Reduce Health Insurance Premiums and Out-Of-Pocket Health Care Costs
While we have made significant progress with the ACA, we must also acknowledge that many Americans across the country struggle to pay for the costs of health care, particularly those who are in the individual Marketplace. Many of the Trump administration’s actions have made the problem worse, from ending payments for cost-sharing subsidies to undermining the individual mandate. This has resulted in increased instability in the individual market and increasing costs. Affordability is now an even bigger problem for many Americans. Congress should pass reforms and reinstate the policies that work to keep costs down.
We can do that by:
- Funding the reinsurance program, which provides a backstop against extremely expensive medical claims, and stabilizes premiums in the Marketplace.
- Strengthening tax credits in the Marketplace, which will ensure more middle-class Americans can qualify for subsidies.
- Ensuring that families, who don’t have access to affordable coverage through their employer, are able to qualify for subsidies in the Marketplace.
- Providing support to small businesses to help ensure that they are able to offer affordable health care coverage to their employees.
- Increase Access to Quality Health Care in Rural and Underserved Communities
There is a health care gap between rural and urban America. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Americans living in rural communities are more likely to die from five leading, potentially preventable causes: cancer, heart disease, unintentional injuries, chronic lower respiratory disease, and stroke. The percentage of deaths that are potentially preventable is higher in rural communities than urban communities. Suicide rates are higher in rural communities, and the opioid epidemic continues to ravage rural families, where the rates of drug overdose deaths are higher than the rates in urban communities.
Despite this stark outlook, rural communities across the country continue to face financial, geographic, and structural barriers to accessing health care. At least 97 rural hospitals have closed over the past nine years, and today, 673 rural hospitals are on the brink of closure—that’s more than one-third of rural hospitals across the United States. If we don’t protect rural hospitals, almost 12 million Americans will lose direct access to critical care, rural communities will suffer major economic consequences, and millions of Americans will lose their jobs. A strong health care system is key to strengthening the economy in rural communities. Washington must act with a sense of urgency to fix these dire circumstances.
We can do that by:
- Protecting coverage gains under Medicaid expansion, a critical source of stabilization for rural hospitals.
- Improving access to emergency care in rural communities by piloting innovative and flexible delivery models.
- Addressing the provider shortage by increasing workforce incentives for health care providers to train and practice in underserved areas with critical shortages—including maternal care, mental health, and substance abuse treatment.
- Extending funding for community health centers, which are the primary care medical home for more than 26 million Americans living in every state and territory.
- Expanding the number of providers eligible to provide telehealth services and increase access to broadband services to remove technological barriers to telehealth care.
- Ensuring the Department of Agriculture’s rural health liaison is fully funded.
- Strengthening the care provided by Indian Health Services to tribal communities.
- Lower the Cost of Prescription Drugs
Republicans and Democrats agree: we need to lower the cost of prescription drugs. Americans are paying a painful price for skyrocketing prescription drug costs. In fact, recent data shows that nearly a quarter of Americans did not fill their prescriptions due to the expense. This problem has not only prevented many Americans from accessing critical medications, but it has also cost lives. Americans are rightfully calling for immediate action and Congress should work tirelessly to find bipartisan solutions that will bring relief now.
We can do that by:
- Increasing transparency on the complex, arcane drug pricing system.
- Closing loopholes that some drug companies exploit to game the system and unfairly raise drug prices, taking advantage of American families.
- Increasing competition in the pharmaceutical market, specifically for generics and biosimilar manufacturers.
- Reducing barriers to generic and biosimilar drugs from reaching the market.
- Repealing the non-interference clause to allow for direct negotiation between pharmaceutical companies and the Department of Health and Human Services on behalf of Medicare beneficiaries.
- Combat the Opioid Crisis
The opioid epidemic continues to rage across America, tearing families and communities apart. In 2017, 70,200 Americans died from drug overdose, and almost 70 percent of those deaths involved opioids. That’s more than the entire number of Americans killed in the Vietnam War. According to the CDC, on average, 130 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose. Starting in 2013, drug overdose deaths spiked to their highest rates when illicitly manufactured fentanyl began to make its way to the United States on the black market from China. According to U.S. data, foreign-sourced fentanyl and fentanyl-related compounds killed more Americans in 2017 than all other illicit drugs. Republicans and Democrats agree that we must act now to combat this growing epidemic and save American lives.
We can do that by:
- Cracking down on China for funneling illicit fentanyl into the United States.
- Providing resources for law enforcement and intelligence agencies to combat the foreign trafficking of opioids.
- Providing states and tribal authorities with necessary support to respond to the epidemic on the ground, including adding treatment beds, hiring the workforce necessary to expand treatment and recovery options, bridging gaps identified in systems of care, supporting robust prevention campaigns, and many other responses.
- Incentivizing more doctors to pursue addiction medicine, addiction psychiatry, or pain management programs.
- Strengthening the Medicaid program, which has ensured coverage for millions of Americans seeking treatment since the program was expanded under the ACA.