Op-Ed: It’s time for members of Congress to take action, not brag about inaction
It is a challenging time for our country. We are divided politically and a great many Americans have genuine concerns about the future. I get that and respect it. Representing a congressional district that twice voted for President Obama in 2008 and 2012, and then voted for President Trump in 2016, means that I have constituents who are good and decent people, and even next door neighbors and friends, but who hold divergent views on politics and policy. It’s my job to represent them both as best I can.
I didn’t run for Congress to be a spectator, nor to be an obstructionist or someone who decorates a fancy chair. We have too many of those people in Washington already. Rather, I ran to have a seat at the table where policy is shaped, and to make decisions that I believe are in the best interests of my constituents. My approach to repairing our healthcare system has been no different.
Our first daughter, Gracie, was born with severe special needs, and passed away at the age of 11. The emotional cost to our family was devastating and the financial cost added up to more than $1 million in medical bills. If my wife Debbie and I didn’t have insurance, we would have been bankrupt. I carried that perspective with me every day at the negotiating table trying to improve the healthcare bill in Congress.
The bottom line is that while The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has helped millions of people, it hurt many millions more. Healthcare choices dwindled, premiums skyrocketed, and deductibles increased astronomically. In New Jersey, there were five companies doing business on the ACA marketplace just a couple years ago - today there are just two. One-third of counties across the United States only have one choice.
The ACA has to be replaced, but only if we can do so with something better. That is why I took on my own party and was 1 of just 9 Republicans in Congress to vote against an ill-conceived and rushed plan for repeal without suitable replacement. When the process continued, however, rather than take my ball and go home, I rolled up my sleeves and went to work to make the legislation better. Over the past several weeks, I worked with President Trump, Vice President Pence, Speaker Ryan, Health and Human Services Secretary Price, and other Members of Congress for specific legislative improvements before I would consider voting for the bill.
First and foremost, for the first time we gave 23 million Americans who currently get nothing from the ACA the money to buy insurance. These are the people who currently pay a penalty for being uninsured, or who get a waiver - but who get nothing to help them. Every single one of them would have been better off with the replacement plan. And while the Congressional Budget Office noted that 24 million could choose to drop their insurance and become uninsured after the Individual Mandate was lifted, we actually provided the money for them to remain insured.
To protect lower-income, working families, I insisted that the federal government continue to pay 90% of the cost for those currently in Medicaid Expansion - including nearly 500,000 New Jerseyans - as was promised in the ACA, and also successfully negotiated that no other changes would be made to Medicaid until 2020. Further, the old funding equation for Medicaid was inadequate, especially for the elderly and the disabled. To fix this, I fought alongside others, and won $60 billion dollars in additional resources for states so they can continue to provide high-quality health care through the Medicaid program.
Another critical issue for me was increasing the tax credit for older Americans in the 50-64 age group, many of whom call Burlington and Ocean Counties home. Millions of people in this age group are living on fixed income and would not have been able to pay more money for quality health insurance. I was also concerned that the gap between ACA subsidies and the proposed tax credits would be too large, and that these Americans would lose coverage or access to care. In response, I fought for and won an additional $90 billion dollars in tax credits for these older Americans, plus an additional $15 billion for new mothers, mental health care, and substance abuse care, a critical issue to me given the heroin and opioid addiction crisis gripping our state and nation.
No, this legislation wasn’t perfect. That’s not how our system works. But, it was a dramatic improvement over the current law and where the replacement bill started. The only way we’re going to repair our broken health care system is if we work together to fix the problem. Just saying no, which requires no effort at all, or pointing the finger of blame at others, is of no value. It’s time for Members of Congress to take action, not brag about inaction.