When President Obama stood before a joint session of Congress to make his case for health reform in 2009, he cited a passage from a letter he received from Ted Kennedy, delivered to the White House shortly after the senator's death.In his letter, Senator Kennedy called America's broken health care system the "great unfinished business of our society." He wrote, "What we face is above all a moral issue; that at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country."
In the years since, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has tilted our health care system toward justice by prohibiting insurance companies from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions, guaranteeing preventive checkups without a dime coming out of pocket, eliminating annual and lifetime limits to ensure that getting sick won't mean going broke, and reducing uninsured rates to historic lows.
Who benefits from these protections? It's not just the 20 million Americans newly covered by plans on Healthcare.gov; the law also improved coverage for the 150 million Americans enrolled in plans through their employer, the 55 million disabled Americans and seniors covered by Medicare, and the over 74 million low-income families enrolled in Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program.
What could repeal of the health care law mean? It could mean that your grandmother will pay more for her prescription drugs, or that your niece in graduate school on a limited budget will no longer be able to afford contraceptives, or that your friend's cancer treatment will be interrupted when coverage is pulled because of her pre-existing condition. It could undermine our efforts to stop the onslaught of drug overdose deaths claiming six lives every week in Broward County by allowing insurance companies to arbitrarily refuse to cover mental health and substance abuse services.
The Republican plan to repeal the law without a plan to protect the 300 million Americans whose health care coverage will be compromised is reckless and callous. It will erase the progress we've made and hit working families the hardest. It will take away health insurance from an estimated 30 million Americans — 82 percent of whom are in working-class families — and will double the number of children without insurance.
Floridians arguably have the most to lose. Over 1.7 million Floridians who signed up for ACA plans on Healthcare.gov in 2016, the most of any state, would be kicked off their plans. Repeal would wipe out $351 million in savings for the over four million Medicare beneficiaries in Florida — an average of $987 per person — by reopening the gap in drug coverage.
Finally, the nearly nine million Floridians who have workplace coverage would also lose valuable benefits. Repeal will eliminate the ban against annual and lifetime coverage limits, exposing workers to greater risk of medical bankruptcy. It will cut an estimated 132,000 young adults under the age of 26 from their parents' plans, end cost-free preventive services like flu shots and cancer screenings, and will unleash premium growth in employer-sponsored plans, which slowed to 1.3 percent after the ACA compared to 8.2 percent growth over the previous decade. In short, repeal will return our health care system to a time when insurance companies had too much power and too often came between patients and their care.
Let me state this as clearly as possible: I am ready to work with Republicans to make our health care system work better. We still have unfinished business in health care — to help control rising premiums, deductibles, and copays, and to continue pushing our uninsured rate to new historic lows.
Unfortunately, the Republican plan to repeal the law without any idea about what happens the day after would throw our health care system into complete disarray. Repealing the ACA will destroy the real benefits that have saved millions of Floridians money on their care, boosted access to comprehensive health coverage, and prevented unfair denials and discrimination by insurance companies when families need their coverage the most. It's time for Republicans to admit to the severe damage their repeal plan will cause and work with Democrats to make the Affordable Care Act work better.
Ted Deutch is a United States Congressman representing Florida's 22nd District. He can be reached by visiting his website teddeutch.house.gov.