Guest Columnist

This must be the health care Congress

The dome of the U.S. Capitol is seen beyond a chain fence during the partial government shutdown in Washington, D.C. on Jan, 8, 2019. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)
The dome of the U.S. Capitol is seen beyond a chain fence during the partial government shutdown in Washington, D.C. on Jan, 8, 2019. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)
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Only days after the new 116th Congress began, Republicans’ efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act have been on full view for all once again.

House Democrats introduced a resolution authorizing the House Counsel to intervene in a Texas lawsuit filed by Republican state officials and backed by the Trump administration. The lawsuit, which won in December and probably will face a number of appeals, would dissolve the ACA in its entirety, which would be worse than any repeal bill that has come before Congress.

Every Democrat voted to intervene in the lawsuit to defend the ACA and its vital consumer protections, including Iowa U.S. Reps. Cindy Axne, Abby Finkenauer and Dave Loebsack. But nearly every Republican opposed the resolution, reaffirming their opposition to high-quality, affordable health care for Iowans.

What makes this vote even more surprising is that it is the first health care vote since the American people showed up to the polls in historic numbers and sent Congress a clear mandate: End the relentless war on health care.

There is no question that health care was the issue propelling the Democratic majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, leading to the largest party flip in the House in decades. Polling showed health care was the No. 1 issue by far, and Democrats won those voters 77 percent to 22 percent. Thirty four Republican members of Congress who voted for ACA repeal lost their seats or retired before voters had a chance to vote them out of office.

The new Democratic majority in the House means that legislative repeal efforts are effectively over, but Republicans will continue their refusal to support the ACA’s protections, just as they did with their votes against this resolution. And their persistence shows that our health care remains under threat. Defying the voices of the American people, Republicans show no sign of ending their relentless war to sabotage the American people’s health care.

Iowans and Americans have demanded access to quality, affordable coverage at the ballot box and millions in our state and across the country deserve to have this year’s Congress be the “Health Care Congress.”

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What would that mean, for this to be the Health Care Congress? First, Congress should do everything possible to overturn last year’s federal court decision that struck down the ACA, which President Donald Trump repeatedly has celebrated and which has faced virtually no opposition from Sen. Joni Ernst and other Republican members of Congress.

A first step would include passing a Senate Resolution to similar to the House measure that authorizes the House legal counsel to intervene in the lawsuit, as well as oppose GOP attempts to continue the war on health care through the courts. Ernst and Sen. Chuck Grassley should use their positions of leadership to advocate for such a resolution.

The Health Care Congress also has to end the Republican war on people with pre-existing conditions. Almost everyone agrees that these protections should exist, yet the Trump administration has continued creating rules that allow states and insurance companies to skirt it. The Health Care Congress must stop insurance companies from selling long-term junk health insurance that allows them to deny quality, affordable coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. And health care costs are unsustainable for hardworking families who already are living paycheck to paycheck.

Congress must focus on legislation that lowers the cost of prescription drugs, ending surprise medical bills, expanding financial assistance by expanding eligibility for premium tax credits, and expanding services before deductibles.

Finally, the Health Care Congress can and should strengthen Medicaid and Medicare. Aside from extending and increasing federal funding for Medicaid expansion, they can improve Medicare’s affordability by adding an out-of-pocket maximum for older Americans.

To represent their constituents, the 116th Congress must become “The Health Care Congress.” The U.S. House is poised to deliver for the people. All that’s needed is for Republicans such as Ernst and Grassley, and Rep. Steve King to read the writing on the wall from November and end their war on health care for good. Come to the table and find common-sense solutions that improve health care for all Americans.

• Liz Bennett is a Democratic state representative from Cedar Rapids.

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