BY EDITORIAL STAFF
Elected officials representing Queens said that Congress should make changes to Obamacare, not repeal and replace it, while borough residents have been left worried about the future of their health care.
Republicans in Congress have long sought to repeal the Affordable Care Act and, this week, they introduced the American Health Care Act, which would replace the mandate for most Americans to have health insurance with a system of tax credits to induce people to buy insurance on the open market.
Queens’ congressional members said that they would fight to prevent the GOP bill from becoming law.
“The Affordable Care Act replacement plan released by House Republicans is a nightmare for New Yorkers,” U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Astoria) said. “Under this GOP plan, families will have to pay more for worse health coverage, costs will go up for the middle class, millions of people will lose health insurance, seniors who depend on Medicare and Medicaid will see their benefits cut and Planned Parenthood will be defunded. New York City’s hospitals will be hit especially hard with the dramatic loss of federal Medicaid funding under this bill, threatening patients’, especially low-income patients’, access to health care services.”
Under the GOP bill, Medicaid expansion would be maintained for now, but enrollment would freeze as of Jan. 1, 2020.
The bill would get rid of a requirement that people have insurance and eliminate tax penalties for those who do not, and no longer force large employers to offer coverage for full-time employees. However, the GOP bill would keep the popular provisions of preventing insurers from denying coverage for preexisting conditions or capping benefits in a year or lifetime.
But since its introduction on Monday, the bill has been unanimously opposed by Democrats and also by a number of conservatives, who believe the bill bears some similarities to Obamacare. If a handful of Republicans vote against the bill, it is unlikely to pass.
U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing) said that congressional Republicans and President Donald Trump have not proposed a feasible plan for replacing the Affordable Care Act.
“His insistence on a repeal and replace of Obamacare that would expand choice and lower costs is not realistic,” she said. “Congressional Republicans have not offered any replacement plans that would meet those criteria.”
Meng said that approximately 36,600 people in her district have purchased ACA marketplace coverage and that the uninsured rate among her constituents has dropped from 16.7 percent to 11.6 percent since the law was enacted.
And U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Huntington) said that Congress should “mend”—and not “end” —Obamacare.
“Protecting people with preexisting conditions, eliminating lifetime caps and allowing young adults to stay on their parents’ plans until they’re 26 are critical provisions that we must keep,” he said. “But we also need to work with doctors and providers to get premiums under control and eliminate bureaucracy. This requires everyone to come together to pass a bipartisan bill that makes sense and delivers quality, affordable health care to all Americans.”
And on Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) spoke on the legislative body’s floor to oppose the GOP’s bill.
“It would force middle-class families to pay more money for less care; it would leave more people uninsured—by a lot; it would allow insurance companies to charge older Americans with what is essentially an age tax… it would cause many working families to lose coverage from their employers,” she said.
During a town hall meeting on Monday night in Rosedale, U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) told attendees that a large number of his constituents who were previously uninsured are now covered due to Obamacare.
“If you take a look at what’s going on in our district alone in the last year and a half, 29,000 people in the 5th congressional district who did not have health care before now have health care under the Affordable Care Act,” the congressman said. “Many of these individuals have care for the first time.”
One Rosedale resident—Pat Garrison, who is a nurse working primarily out of a catheterization laboratory—said that she has witnessed the benefits of Obamacare through her work.
“As a result of the Affordable Care Act that President Obama put forth, many of my patients lived, people who could not afford a hospital or were afraid to go to a hospital because they did not have health insurance,” she said. “I have a fear that we will have this problem again. I can remember long ago when there were patients who died. We have enough people who are six feet under because they did not have health insurance.”
Garrison said she did not have much faith in Congress in coming up with a replacement for Obamacare.
“I am not sure if those individuals who are leading and making the decisions care or have an understanding of what happens to the people who will no longer be able to afford healthcare,” she said. “I don’t think the people who are making the decisions have any idea what it takes to organize or develop a health care system.”
However, the Queens County Republican State Committee threw its support behind the GOP bill, saying that it was the “first step in a process to correct a bad piece of legislation.”
“It will lower health care costs, improve efficiency and oversight,” a statement from the committee read. “Health care in America is not one-policy-fits-all. It must work better and become more affordable. The American Health Care Act will relieve taxpayers of the financial burdens under the failed Obamacare policy.”