There are signs that the complexity and political consequences of repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) are finally dawning on Donald Trump. After promising on the campaign trail to repeal the ACA immediately, he casually noted in a television interview over the weekend that it might take until later this year, or 2018, to come up with a “wonderful” replacement plan. His words shone another bright spotlight on the inability of the GOP to come up with a replacement plan that doesn’t strip insurance coverage from millions of Americans.
But this isn’t the time to wait and see what happens! We can’t let up. Rep. Tom Price is expected to be confirmed as Health and Human Services Secretary this week and congressional leaders are still aiming for a vote to repeal (or “repair”) the ACA in March—whether or not there is a replacement plan ready.
Tuesday is Valentine’s Day. It’s a great day to let members of Congress know you want them to be a “sweetheart” and #ProtectOurCare. Look out for social media badges, like the one shown that was developed in partnership with our friends at Community Catalyst, and get ready to share them widely on Valentine’s Day.
You can download a Valentine’s postcard from our website, print it, add your message and deliver to your local member of Congress. Also that day, SEIU is sponsoring a national call-in day for people to ask their members of Congress to “have a heart” and save the ACA. The call-in number is 866-426-2631.
There are plenty of opportunities for you to take action all over the country during the next few weeks. Below we explain what’s being planned for the congressional recess Feb. 18 to 26, when members of Congress will be back in their districts holding town hall meetings. But first, let’s give you the big picture of what is happening this week.
#PriceisWrong, but he will probably be confirmed later this week
For example, birth control coverage without copays or deductible payments is made possible by the ACA, but it isn't actually in the law itself. The law simply requires an agency within HHS to develop a list of preventive services to be covered.
But even areas specifically enumerated in the law could come under attack during this administration. For example, while the law lists the 10 essential health benefits that insurance plans in the individual and small employer markets must cover—e.g. cover maternity and newborn care, mental health, prescriptions, and more—HHS has broad powers to define what that coverage actually looks like in practice. Similarly, the law blocks insurance companies from discriminating against anyone on the basis of a pre-existing condition but HHS shapes how broadly or narrowly that protection is defined.
During Price’s confirmation hearings, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) pressed him on whether he would “commit to maintaining the protections that ensure that victims of domestic violence will not be discriminated against when purchasing health insurance.” Tellingly, Price dodged the question.
As one conservative gleefully boasted this week in anticipation of Price’s confirmation, “Live by the administrative state, die by the administrative state.” But the Trump Administration may find that cuts both ways. Many of the provisions targeted by conservatives, like contraception coverage and protections for pre-existing conditions, are also the most popular. During the Obama Administration, Republicans could win simply by degrading the health law at every turn. But Trump voters expecting something “wonderful” now are likely to find instead they are paying more for worse coverage.
Meanwhile, there are dubious ACA “replacement” ideas
For example, instead of the ACA’s guaranteed protection from discrimination based on pre-existing condition, Republicans would roll back the clock to the pre-ACA status quo. Their two biggest ideas—shunting the sickest people into high risk pools and requiring everyone else to maintain “continuous coverage”—were both features of the pre-ACA days when 47 million people had no health insurance and millions more couldn’t buy a plan that covered their condition.
Similarly, GOP proposals marry high deductible health plans with tax-free “health savings accounts” (HSAs). Republicans’ stated goal is to encourage consumers to save and pay for more of their care themselves in the hope that paying out of pocket will encourage them to comparison shop for the best deals on care. Not surprisingly, the evidence suggests that high deductible plans don’t work that way and can drive people to forgo needed care. But claims of increasing “personal responsibility” may hide what’s really driving this proposal. While an HSA’s tax benefits may do little to help low-income households, they can serve as a massive tax shelter for high-income ones.
Our friends at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities have a helpful primer outlining all of the top GOP proposals, how they differ from the ACA’s protections, and what they could mean to you.
RWV regional coordinator Kathy Waligora of Everthrive Illinois went on Chicago television station WCIU’s “You and Me” morning show to sound the alarm. “We want to make clear that repealing the Affordable Care Act, especially without an immediate replacement is dangerous,” said Waligora (shown at right in the photo). “It will cost people’s lives, it will cost the state and taxpayers money, and it will really disrupt the system that so many of us really rely on, which is the health care system.”
So, what can you do?
If you live in New Jersey, you can join our RWV regional coordinator, Citizen Action, in one of a series of candlelight Vigils to Save Our Health Care they are holding outside Congressional District offices. Some of these vigils are taking place tonight, Feb. 8, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Check out their website to find out more.
You can show up for a rally when the Save My Care bus stops in your town. This week, the bus is traveling through Nevada, with stops planned in Las Vegas (Thursday), Carson City and Reno (both on Friday) and Fallon (Saturday). Next week, it will be in Arizona and New Mexico. You can check out this website to find out when the bus will be near you.
Last week, the bus stopped in Chicago, where Everthrive Illinois’ Kathy Waligora (second from right) was on hand, offering support as William McNary, Co-Director of Citizen Action Illinois, kicked off the event.
It’s also time to plan ahead for Feb. 18 to 25, when members of Congress will be home in their districts for a President’s Day recess. Here are some action opportunities:
- Show up for your Congress member’s town hall meeting. See this list to find out if your Congress member has an event scheduled for that week.
- Social media: Over recess week, RWV plans to launch another round of our #If I Lose Coverage social media campaign, which will feature new badges and stories. Stay on the lookout for more information on our Facebook page.
- Letters to the editor and op-eds in local newspapers are a great way to share your story with a wide audience.
- Letter writing parties: Send letters and postcards to district offices asking policymakers to protect our care. (Send mail to district and state offices, not to DC offices, where security measures cause additional time delays.) The most effective letters are hand delivered to district offices in-person.
- And always and in everything you do, share your story of why the ACA has helped you, your family, friends and neighbors. Speak out about what would happen if you, or someone you love, loses coverage.