Steve Driehaus represented Cincinnati in Congress from 2009 to 2011. Since then, he has been a country director for the Peace Corps in Morocco and Swaziland.
Seven years ago, I was able to participate in one of the most important and controversial debates our nation has ever had concerning health care.
On March 21, 2010 The House of Representatives passed the Senate version of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), “Obamacare.” The vote was a culmination of months of meetings. I met with uninsured patients, parents of disabled children, small-business owners, hospital managers, physicians, nurses, health insurers and hundreds of constituents to listen, and to get their perspectives on what changes they wanted to improve our health care system.
The bill, as passed, did not go as far as many wanted. There was no single-payer system created. It was not Medicare for all.
What it did accomplish, however, was to answer many of those concerns I heard raised in those meetings both at home in Cincinnati and in Washington. It did address the soaring costs associated with uninsured people receiving their primary care in the emergency room, a cost passed on to those holding insurance. It did address the crises millions of Americans faced who were unable to afford insurance for themselves and their families.
It did address the challenges so many families faced as they were denied insurance because of pre-existing conditions. It eliminated penalties targeting sick loved ones whose insurance was terminated when care was needed most. It allowed young adults to stay on their parents’ more affordable plans. And it allowed all Americans the opportunity to embrace a system where the ability to secure health insurance was no longer dependent on the employer.
The ACA incorporated ideas that both Republicans and Democrats had advocated over the years. It covered everyone, while relying on free market principles in the exchanges. It allowed for the broad expansion of Medicaid by the states, enabling greater coverage for those most vulnerable.
It was complicated. It was messy. But for millions of Americans it has worked. Should it be fixed? Absolutely. No massive piece of legislation that fundamentally changes huge systems is without fault.
However, the debate taking place today doesn’t seem targeted at fixing anything, but seems only focused on scoring a political victory over a president who has already left office, and on providing more tax breaks to pharmaceutical giants and health insurance companies.
It really isn’t a debate at all. Unlike the months of critique given to the ACA, this legislation is hidden. The meetings take place behind closed doors. The constituents most likely to be impacted have been excluded. Congress seems intent on returning to a broken system, rather than making the adjustments that are needed to improve it.
The short-lived political victory gained from dismantling the ACA is not worth the price so many millions of their constituents will pay.
Whose life does Trumpcare improve?
There is no victory in denying care to a pregnant woman, no high fives for refusing a man with a heart condition the support he needs. What happens to the child who develops leukemia whose parents are denied her coverage because of the condition?
Instead of fighting the political battles of yesterday, Congress should be focusing on improving the lives of our children tomorrow by improving upon the progress made seven years ago.