WE MUST HOLD CONGRESS ACCOUNTABLE
While we cannot predict the future, there is little doubt that 2017 will be a memorable year in Washington and across the country as newly elected leaders work to address the important issues facing our country. In our representative democracy, it is important to remember that politicians work for us. It is not only our right, but our responsibility to hold them accountable and have our voices heard. We call on them to take action to create better-paying jobs, reduce stark income inequality, strengthen workers’ rights, enact trade deals that put workers’ interests ahead of corporations looking to offshore our work, and ensure we have economic security in our golden years so we can retire with dignity. UAW members and retirees will be watching closely to see how everyone serving in office on our behalf, from President Trump to mayors and county commissioners, act to address the critical issues that impact our daily lives and future.
On Jan. 20 Donald J. Trump was sworn in to serve for four years as the 45th President of the United States. The 115th Congress will go into session with Republicans having control of the presidency and both the House of Representatives and the Senate. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, are planning on taking full advantage of the opportunity to send legislation to the president from the same party and look to hit the ground running with the goal of passing a sweeping right-wing agenda, much of which runs counter to our core beliefs. This article provides a preview on what to look out for in the first few months of 2017.
Congressional Republicans have promised to dismantle the Affordable Care Act (ACA/Obamacare) by repealing and “replacing it.” They are intent on using special budgetary rules called “reconciliation” to eliminate all spending and taxes stemming from the law. Republicans are using reconciliation to prevent Democratic senators from blocking the bill by staging a filibuster (60 votes are needed to end a filibuster). Republicans will need only 51 votes to pass the bill by using specials rules and have 52 seats out of 100 seats in the Senate. Vice President Mike Pence can break a 50-50 tie if necessary, meaning Republicans can change the law without any support from Democrats. Congress cannot make policy changes (like changing health insurance reforms) through budget reconciliation procedures. This fact provides little comfort as the law will not be effective if people do not have resources to pay for care. Insurance pools will not work if people who can afford care are not penalized for only seeking medical assistance when they are sick.
The ACA would likely not be phased out immediately but rather over the course of a few years. Republicans argue the extra time will give them the ability to craft a viable alternative for the tens of millions who stand to lose care and benefits when the ACA is gutted. The problem is that providers and insurers will flee the market without any certainty. Worse yet, several of the ideas supported by Speaker Ryan and his conservative caucus are well known and provide cause for concern. Under his “Better Way” plan, our health care benefits would be taxed in many instances and money would be taken out of our paychecks. This would be a step backward, as UAW members have made many sacrifices at the bargaining table in exchange for comprehensive employer-sponsored health care. Congress must not erode those gains by subjecting this earned benefit to income tax.
Speaker Ryan’s plan relies on providing tax benefits for those who can afford to pay out of pocket and taking away some of the rules for insurance companies under the questionable premise that it would lead to more competition and lower costs for consumers. The math doesn’t work and per the Urban Institute, 30 million Americans are at risk of losing their health care coverage if the ACA is repealed. We could expect all our premiums to rise.
When more people are uninsured we all suffer, and pay tens of billions extra because the cost of care goes up when people do not get the preventative care they need and instead go to an emergency room when a medical crisis strikes. In 2010, before the ACA, almost 50 million Americans were without health insurance. At the end of 2015, the number of uninsured Americans reached an all-time low of 28.5 million.
Like any law, the ACA is by no means perfect but it has ensured that insurance companies cannot play games with people’s lives by putting annual and lifetime dollar limits in place that prevent people from getting care when they need it the most. The ACA has provided affordable access to OB/GYN services for women, pediatric care for children, and primary care physicians for many who could not afford to see a doctor in the past. Millions are getting preventive care that was previously unaffordable. The ACA also removed exclusions for pre-existing conditions and allowed parents to keep their children on their plan until age 26. These advances will be put in harm’s way if funding for the law is repealed.
That is not all, as Congress also plans to use special budget rules to convert Medicare into a voucher-like program, in which seniors would get a fixed sum of money with which to choose a health plan. Republican proposals have also supported raising the retirement age to 67, directly harming our members in VEBAs. If the retirement age for Medicare is raised people will stay in the VEBA longer and all recipients could be negatively impacted as resources are stretched. We all pay into Medicare with the promise that it will be there when we need it. Raising the retirement age and cutting benefits would be a betrayal by the people we elect to serve our interests.
Medicaid could also be slashed and turned into a block grant program that does not increase when demand goes up. Medicaid is often (and incorrectly) viewed as a program just for poor people. Medicaid assists two-thirds of America’s seniors with nursing home care. Also, Medicaid cuts are harmful to all state and local public employees as it is an important funding source that allows governments to spend their resources on public education and policing. Major cuts in Medicaid will lead to layoffs and cuts across all public programs at the state and local levels. Some localities will respond by raising property taxes and taking other detrimental actions like privatizing public resources.
We need a health care system that provides quality care for all and will demand nothing less.
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