Affordable, quality health coverage should be a right and not a privilege in the United States of America. I believe access to health care is a moral issue, and I am proud of my work over the years to make it available to more Americans, particularly through the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). I will work through whatever means available to protect and strengthen this life-saving legislation. Instead of undermining the progress, which we have made, we should seek opportunities to further expand access to high quality health care while bringing down costs. First, we should increase competition on the federal and state health exchanges to reduce the costs of health care. I authored legislation called the Keeping Health Insurance Affordable Act to establish a public option health insurance plan to compete alongside private plans (the so-called “public option”) on the health exchanges. This legislation also improves on the ACA by increasing consumers’ eligibility for premium tax credits, reducing out-of-pocket costs for middle-income households, and reducing prescription drug prices through Medicare Part D negotiations with drug companies. These are common sense ideas with broad support among patient and provider groups.
Medicare is a highly efficient and cost-effective program, and I have long supported allowing individuals between the ages of 50-64 to buy-in to the program. Doing so would go a long way toward helping older Americans deal with skyrocketing healthcare costs. This Medicare at 50 Act would also strengthen the program through the inclusion of younger, healthier pool of participants. I also believe that we must update existing health coverage to reflect advancements in standards of medical care. For example, I am working to add dental coverage as a Medicare benefit with my legislation, the Medicare Dental Benefit Act, and I have publicly urged the administration to provide coverage for medically necessary oral and dental treatment. I have also introduced legislation to increase access to osteoporosis screenings and diagnoses for Medicare beneficiaries.
Instead of pursuing these opportunities, the Trump administration drove Congressional efforts to repeal the life-saving law. Since that proved unsuccessful, President Trump has sabotaged the ACA piece by piece through administrative action. I cosponsored a Joint Resolution of disapproval to overturn the Trump administration’s expansion of junk insurance plans which are not required to cover people with pre-existing conditions or offer the full range of essential benefits required under the ACA. I am committed to blocking efforts to expand access to health insurance plans that do not protect people with pre-existing conditions or otherwise undermine the healthcare reform law.
These reckless attempts by the administration disregard how much good health care reform has done for all Americans. Before we passed the Affordable Care Act, too many people fell through the cracks with inadequate insurance coverage, annual and lifetime coverage caps, or limits to preventive health services. Too many declared bankruptcy because of high healthcare costs or skipped prescribed care or medications because of the costs.
The ACA ensured that many of those people now have access to higher-quality coverage. Core elements of the law require companies to cover adults and children with preexisting conditions, prevent insurance companies from setting annual and lifetime limits, and allow young adults can stay on a parent’s health plan until the age of 26. By creating a set of essential health benefits that insurance companies must cover, we ensured that all patients have access to mental health services, maternal care, and pediatric dental coverage, which is especially important to me in the wake of Deamonte Driver’s tragic death. Furthermore, being a woman is no longer a valid reason for health insurance companies to charge higher premiums, and insurance companies can no longer drop people the moment they get sick. Instead, insurance companies are required to spend more of insurance premiums on health benefits than on CEO salaries and must publicly justify and explain any premium rate increases of 10 percent or more.
The ACA also took a big step forward by requiring marketplace plans to cover comprehensive contraceptive services for all women. I have spoken out against the Trump administration’s dangerous attempts to restrict access to reproductive health services and remain committed to protecting access to these services. Finally, the ACA secured mental health coverage enrolled through state and federal exchanges. The 1.6 million covered under the Medicaid expansion also gained access to substance use disorder treatment, which has been critical as states seek to combat the opioid epidemic.
In Maryland, the ACA lowered the state uninsured rate from 12.9 percent in 2013 to 6.1 percent in 2018. 75 percent of the consumers who enrolled in private plans through the Maryland Health Connection for 2018 were eligible for premium financial assistance. Eligible Maryland households receive an average tax credit of $404 to help pay their monthly premiums and an additional $130 a month for those which also quality for cost-sharing subsidies. Each year, Marylanders receive almost $500 million in tax credits and cost-sharing subsidies.
The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic shined a spotlight on our nation’s health disparities and the urgent need for quality health care access for all. Many of our citizens remain without necessary and appropriate care or coverage during this difficult period in our nation’s history. That is why I will continue my work to expand access to health care while bringing down costs to make it more accessible for all Americans. Ensuring all citizens regardless of race, ethnicity, income or zip code can receive treatment is critical to combatting this virus. In these uncertain times, I recognize how all of these challenges affect hard-working Americans – including our dedicated essential workers – and their families and I will continue to fight to ensure the lives and well-being of Americans are protected.
For more information regarding the impact of Covid-19 and legislative actions to aid our nation’s public health response, please visit our Coronavirus resources page at https://www.cardin.senate.gov/coronavirus-resources
I am proud to represent a state that is home to pioneers in biomedical and clinical research such as and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Walter Reed National Military Medical Center as well as key public health agencies like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Maryland’s medical research institutions create healthcare delivery innovations and advance the field of biotechnology, saving lives and reducing healthcare disparities. Research teams at Johns’ Hopkins University are improving our ability to diagnose cancer and Alzheimer’s while researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine are studying complicated cardiovascular conditions and global infectious diseases. I am proud of Maryland’s leadership in high quality health care, and I will work hard to maintain this standard and ensure comprehensive, affordable health care is available to Americans nationwide.
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