Although it’s Halloween time, North Carolinians have had enough tricks by the GOP-controlled Congress and General Assembly in implementing the Affordable Care Act. With another ACA enrollment period beginning Nov. 1, it’s clear health care reform is here to stay. Congress voted on it, and the Supreme Court has upheld it. Voters want lawmakers to implement and improve the ACA so that we can enjoy the full economic and human benefits it can provide.
These benefits have already included over 560,357 North Carolinians who now have private insurance through the marketplace exchange, including 174,517 seniors who saved over $153.3 million on prescription drugs in 2014 and 37,300 young adults eligible to stay on their parents’ insurance. And that’s not even mentioning the 124,000 small businesses eligible for new tax credits.
Poll after poll has shown that voters want Congress to stop wasting time and taxpayer money voting over and over again to repeal the ACA and instead want lawmakers to work to implement and improve it. So far, 61 meaningless votes to repeal and replace the ACA have cost millions and wasted five years that Congress could have spent improving the law. No wonder this has been called “The Do Nothing Congress.”
Rather than delivering all the treats North Carolina could and should enjoy under the ACA, Congress and our legislature have chosen tricks like insisting that the law is a failure when it has already delivered broader coverage and lower costs, corrected long-standing health insurance discrimination against women and persons with pre-existing conditions and chronic illnesses, and made preventive care more available and effective in driving down health care costs.
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No piece of congressional legislation that affects one-sixth of the world’s largest economy could ever be simple or perfect, and we all want improvements, particularly in cutting health care costs. But since the ACA is here to stay, what Congress should be doing rather than taking a 62nd repeal vote is reducing costs further by expanding tax credits to small businesses to help them offer health insurance to their employees, preventing insurance companies from charging high co-payments for medications and treatments that are necessary for people with serious illnesses, giving Medicare more power to negotiate prices for prescription drugs to lower costs and giving state insurance commissioners more authority to push back on insurance companies that want to raise premiums.
The General Assembly’s failure to expand Medicaid is a cruel trick founded on its deceitful characterization of expansion as an economic burden. Over just the past two years, three rural hospitals have closed, and North Carolina has forfeited over $6 billion in federal subsidies with another $21 billion to be lost in the next four years. We have forfeited 29,000 new jobs, will lose nearly $1 billion in new revenue by 2020 and in the process passed on an opportunity to insure 500,000 of our residents who need and deserve coverage.
This is politics at its worst. The partisan extremism of N.C. lawmakers is causing trauma throughout our state. Their counterparts in nine other states controlled by Republicans have embraced Medicaid expansion because they understand the economic benefits and the moral imperative for their residents.
As we enter the third ACA enrollment period, it is high time for Congress and the General Assembly to accept reality, abandon partisan tricks and move forward to improve the economic and human well-being of our state. Until then, thousands of lives will be lost each year, and billions of dollars wasted that health care consumers, taxpayers and our government cannot afford. The ACA is here to stay – it’s time to start acting accordingly.
Kevin J. Rogers is the director of policy and public affairs for the advocacy group Action NC and a lecturer of political science at William Peace University in Raleigh.