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Healthcare in Congress – a Possible Democratic Agenda

By Don Kohn.

When Democrats officially take control of the U.S. House of Representatives in January, a major focus will be on improving healthcare for all Americans – exactly the opposite of what would have been the case had Republicans retained control of both chambers of Congress in the November 6 election.

Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-MA) has just sent out an email to supporters and Democratic activists outlining what he envisions as a Congressional healthcare agenda in the year ahead. Instead of dismantling the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and decimating Medicare and Medicaid, the goal is to actually improve the availability of healthcare to our citizens.

A potential Democratic candidate for President in 2020, Kennedy serves on the House Health Subcommittee and will be in a strong position to help lead this charge.

In his email, he pointed out that “Just this month, America elected a wave of champions of affordable, accessible, equitable care to Congress – including 15 Health Care Heroes! In the process, we defeated dozens of the most anti-health care GOP incumbents. Plus, three states voted to expand Medicare coverage, giving thousands of families access to the care they need.”

This is especially important here in South Carolina, where an analysis by WalletHub gave the Palmetto State an overall ranking of seventh worst among 2017’s Best & Worst States for Health Care, ranking SC at No. 45. The analysis accounted for 35 measures of cost, accessibility and outcome to rank each state.

That’s why HCDP has made improving healthcare in our state a major component of our platform as we prepare for the incredibly important elections of 2020. We are hopeful that Congress will be able to make solid inroads, although the fact remains that Republicans retain control of the Senate and President Trump certainly will be no ally.

The Kennedy Agenda

But, here’s where Rep. Kennedy plans to focus:

  • Pass ironclad protections for those with pre-existing conditions so that Republicans can’t hold their coverage hostage ever again;
  • Stand up to the insurance lobby and Big Pharma to bring down costs of health care premiums and prescription drug prices;
  • Defend and fortify Medicaid – the largest single source of mental health funding in the country – which covers 40% of all adults currently in treatment for substance use disorders; Medicaid also covers half of all births in the US;
  • Protect Medicare from Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump, who are already signaling that they plan to offset the cost of their tax cut scam by slashing Americans’ earned benefits;
  • Establish comprehensive mental health reform to ensure that treatment is fully covered and to respond to the opioid epidemic;
  • Champion equity in health care – from protecting Roe v. Wade to addressing horrific maternal mortality rates in our country, particularly for women of color.

“And finally,” he wrote, “in the months ahead, Democrats will be debating, discussing, and aggressively moving toward universal health care. A system that denies no one the care they need. A system everyone can access and everyone can afford.”

Those are the goals, at least in Kennedy’s mind.

Big Difference with Dems in Charge

Contrast this to the conversation just last month when Republican leaders were saying “entitlements” – meaning Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security — needed to be curtailed to help reduce the massive budget deficit worsened by the Trump/GOP 2018 tax cut, which largely benefits the wealthy.

Republicans also promised renewed efforts to repeal the ACA if they held onto the House. That would have removed the healthcare law’s guaranteed coverage for pre-existing conditions, which as the election neared and polls showed a majority of voters strongly objected, Republicans – including President Trump – claimed they would never allow to happen.

Now, with Democrats firmly in control of the House, the conversation, at least in that chamber, has turned away from decimating health care protections for millions of Americans to, instead, finding ways to make it better, more accessible and more affordable.

As Kennedy said, “We’re stronger than ever before. We’ve got our work cut out for us. Let’s get to it.”

We agree.

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