I’m no newbie to late nights (that often turned into early mornings) watching legislation be written, debated and voted on. During my four years working in the Michigan Legislature, I saw countless hastily written amendments being put up for votes, short fuses getting the best of everyone, and even chants of “Shame! Shame!” being shouted at the majority party reminiscent of an episode of Game of Thrones after they refused to let members speak.
So when I heard that the U.S. Senate was expecting a long night trying to pass their latest version of the Affordable Care Act, I settled in.
I’ll admit when the evening started, I figured it was a done deal. As the Senate began debate, the months we had spent fighting against efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and the healthcare millions of Michiganians depend on were definitely hanging in the balance.
At around 1 a.m., the Twitterverse was going crazy. Things had stalled—votes weren’t being taken, reporters were analyzing body language and many people started predicting that things were not going well for the Majority Leader. Then in dramatic fashion, Sen. John McCain joined Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski (who had been publicly outspoken about the repeal attempts) in opposition to what was considered the Senate’s last ditch effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. At 2:30 a.m., I emailed my co-workers in celebration and headed to bed.
The next morning, I thought we needed to celebrate. I stopped at my favorite downtown Lansing bagel shop for bagels. It was there I ran into a friend and told him about my “celebration bagels,” but he reminded me that they should actually just be “relief bagels.” And he was right because the fight to protect all the gains made through enactment of the Affordable Care Act was and is not over.
In recent weeks, President Donald Trump has threatened to withhold cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments and to stifle efforts to enroll people in the ACA exchanges during open enrollment. The Congressional Budget Office recently released a report on the impact of terminating cost-sharing reductions. Cost-sharing reductions are paid to insurers to cover costs of a requirement in the Affordable Care Act that requires them to offer plans with reduced deductibles, co-payments, and other forms of cost-sharing to individuals purchasing plans on the healthcare exchanges. The report found that by not continuing these payments the federal deficit would increase by $194 billion by 2026, would drive insurers to exit the marketplaces, and would cause premiums to increase by 20% in 2018 and 25% in 2020.
We are happy to report that President Trump has decided to fund these payments for the month of August. We encourage Congress to make a permanent, mandatory appropriation to ensure full funding of CSR payments in order to stabilize the marketplace and erase much uncertainty in the insurance market.
There is also word out of Washington that Senators Bill Cassidy and Lindsey Graham are working with the White House to push their plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. The Cassidy-Graham plan continues many of the same flaws in the previous Senate and House Republican repeal and replace bills—and would have the same damaging consequences.
As an advocate, I get it—it’s been a long eight months and we are all exhausted. We are fighting battles on every corner. But it is important for us to remember why we do this work. Incredible work has already been done and it’s okay that we celebrate the little victories, but the next bagel you buy better be a “keep fighting” bagel, because as Congress returns to work next week, so will we.