With health care insurance providers pulling out of state Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchanges and announcing steep premium increases where they remain, Democrats need to join with Republicans to replace Obamacare, U.S. Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) said in a recent interview.
"The American people deserve to be empowered to make their own health care decisions," Franks told Arizona Business Daily in a telephone interview. "Republicans have been trying to repeal and replace Obamacare with a more patient-centered plan since the ACA was signed into law. Democrats should be more willing to protect the rights of their constituents than to make a point by supporting a flawed and insufficient program."
Franks' comments follow in the wake of decisions by Aetna and other health care insurance providers to scale back participation in Health Insurance Marketplace exchanges that were part of the sweeping ACA legislation also called Obamacare. Aetna announced earlier this month that in 2017 it will stop offering individual Obamacare coverage in 11 of the 15 states where the insurance giant currently participates in the exchanges.
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona announced in June it plans to withdraw from pland in Pinal and Maricopa counties.
All Savers, another health insurance provider currently is participating in Arizona's marketplace exchange, also has announced plans to withdraw from the state.
Health insurance providers who are pulling out of state exchanges have cited heavy profit losses as a result of participating in the state exchanges, where many U.S. residents, particularly low income people, get their health care coverage. The Affordable Care Act mandates that most U.S. citizens acquire and maintain health insurance coverage and imposes fines if they don't. The act also provides subsidies to assist lower-income people pay for their plans.
Aetna's decision in Arizona has made things especially difficult for residents in Pinal County because no health care insurance provider will remain on the state exchange in that county after the end of this year.
That, Franks said, will mean fewer options for Arizona residents, less competition and higher premiums. "The Affordable Care Act is a misnomer if there has ever been one, considering the lack of competition only increases premiums for the American people," Franks said.
Republicans are offering alternatives to the Affordable Care Act, Franks said. "One Republican alternative I support is HR 2300, Empowering Patients First Act," Franks said. "It completely repeals and replaces Obamacare with a patient-centered program which includes tax credits for coverage, lawsuit abuse reforms, individual health pools and reforms to limit defensive medicine."
The Empowering Patients First Act was first introduced by U.S. Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) in 2009, very soon after the Affordable Care Act was signed into law, and has been periodically reintroduced and updated ever since. In February, the legislation was introduced again by U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), with U.S. Sen. David Perdue (R-GA). As currently written, the Empowering Patients First Act would repeal and replace Obamacare with a program supporters say would be provide affordable and accessible solutions for patients and their health care.
There is much in the Empowering Patients First Act that supporters of the Affordable Care Act will find familiar. "Any replacement of the ACA should provide everyone, even those with pre-existing conditions, access to affordable coverage of their choice; should be family focused and patient centered; should place ownership and control over health care plans with the patient; and should allow anyone who likes their current coverage to keep it," Franks said.
The difficulty is getting both major political parties in Washington to agree on a replacement for the Affordable Care Act, something Democrats have great difficulty even considering, Franks said. "The ACA was rammed through Congress by a Democrat-led House," Franks said. "This is their baby and, unfortunately, they have been unwilling to go back to the drawing board when it was clear their plan wasn’t working. Instead of empowering the American people to make their own healthcare decisions, Democrats are convinced the federal government could overtake the system and run it efficiently. This shows a serious lack of historical perspective."
Franks said he is seeing signs that things might be starting to change. "I believe there are Democrats who want to protect their constituents’ rights and who are willing to work with Republicans for a more patient-centered system," Franks said. "But it will take courage for them to publicly support reforms to Obamacare."
However, any Democrat in Congress who takes their oath of office seriously should be working to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Franks said.
Good health care reform must be enacted to put health care decisions into the hands of patients and should follow four basic principles for reform, Franks said.
"Every American should have access to affordable coverage of their choice," Franks said, ticking off the four points. "Patients, in consultation with their doctors, should be in charge of their own health care choices. Patients should own and control their own health care plans, which should be personal and portable. Anyone who is happy with their plan should be able to keep it."