Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Calling Congress

Quick housekeeping thing: If anyone reading this remembers how to make jumps within posts work correctly, please let me know. The text for the jump link shows up, but the entire post is above it. Is this just my computer?

As much as I loved being a journalist and desperately miss it, the best part about leaving the industry is that I'm now allowed to express political opinions in public. In college I drove a car held together with prayer and political bumper stickers, and while not putting stickers on my car was easy, having to refrain from protesting or calling my Congressmen was not. While I've spoken to politicians in person who didn't know I was a journalist, I've never until now been able to call them to voice my opinion. (When I was in high school, I wrote several letters to presidents and Senators. I have a stack of form responses somewhere. But I haven't written an opinionated letter to a politician since the 20th Century.
So about two weeks ago, I finally picked up the phone and called. First, I called Sen. Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat. I knew this call would be preaching to the choir, but that's what makes it a good first one. She is a ranking member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee, and so is working on the confirmation hearings for Betsy DeVos, Trump's abysmal nominee to lead the Department of Education. The phones were busy so I had to leave a message. I simply said, "I know Sen. Murray is on my side here, but I'm calling to express my extreme concern about Betsy DeVos. She's horribly unqualified and as a parent of a future public school student, she terrifies me."

Then came the harder call. Congressman Dan Newhouse. He's the Republican who represents Washington's Fourth District. He seems like a nice man, but there is very, very little he and I agree on politically. We probably agree on some things related to the clean up of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, but that's about it. I voted for him twice, because in both this election and 2012, he was running against someone I don't even want to take a tour of Congress, let alone represent me. (Washington State has a "top-two" primary, meaning that the top two candidates in the primary go to the general regardless of party. When you're a Democrat in the Tri-Cities, this often means there isn't going to be a candidate you want to vote for.

One of my biggest concerns is the ACA. Now, what I want is single-payer, universal health care that doesn't require relying on giant corporations to decide what kind of care you get. But that's not happening. So what I care about is the provisions of the ACA that are popular and help keep vulnerable people alive. I dialed and told a nice man that I know several very sick young children who rely on the ACA to stay alive. I told him if those kids get denied coverage for pre-existing conditions or lifetime coverage limits, their lives are in danger. It is unconscionable, I said, to allow young children to die because of a political grudge. And I said he doesn't get to call himself pro-life if he's not going to work to keep those provisions. I also sent a more detailed email with the same information, but stated a tad more eloquently than I could get out on the phone without letting the staffer who answered get a word in. Below his his response. I will be fact-checking the shit out of this so that I can respond.

Thank you for contacting my office regarding your thoughts on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. It is important to hear from constituents as I work in Congress representing the people of Washington’s 4th District. I sincerely appreciate you reaching out and sharing your views on this important issue.

The framers of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) intended that law to accomplish two goals – reduce the number of uninsured Americans without health insurance, and reduce the costs of coverage. The law has woefully underperformed on both measures. We need only look at the health insurance exchange marketplace here in Washington State to see that costs are on the rise while consumer choice is diminishing. For 2017, the Washington State Insurance Commissioner approved an average 13.1 percent premium increase, coming on the heels of a 4.2 percent increase the year prior, and a 1.9 percent increase in 2015. Additionally, consumer choice is rapidly declining. For 2016, 136 plans were offered statewide by 12 insurers. That reduced to 46 plans offered by just seven insurers for 2017. For many consumers across the state, they now have access to just one or two providers in their counties.

Proponents of the ACA try to claim that the law has been successful in reducing the number of uninsured. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), while it may be true that 22 million people have attained “coverage” through the ACA – 10 million fewer than expected when the law first passed – nearly two-thirds of those enrollees have come under the expansion of the Medicaid program, not through the private insurance market. Sadly, the ACA placed enrollees into an already broken system, as Medicaid was already experiencing physician shortages prior to the ACA. This explosion in Medicaid enrollees has only aggravated this shortage, as well as increased wait-times for enrollees and the cost of the program. A Medicaid actuarial report from August 2016 found that the average cost per enrollee was 49 percent higher than estimated just a year prior – in large part due to beneficiaries seeking care at more expensive hospital emergency rooms due to difficulty finding a doctor and long waits for appointments.

I believe we owe it to the American people to repeal the ACA, and replace it with an alternative that embraces free market principles, will actually help to reduce costs, and will protect certain consumer safeguards supported by most Americans. For example, it is vital that we preserve coverage options for those who have preexisting conditions, and allow students and young adults the option of maintaining coverage with their parents. Since joining Congress in 2015, I have sponsored and supported several bills that will do just that. Most recently, I supported H.R. 3762, the Restoring Americans’ Healthcare Freedom Reconciliation Act, which passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 240-189, and was vetoed by President Obama on January 8, 2016.

As you may be aware, President-Elect Trump has pledged the repeal and replacement of the ACA upon taking office. I look forward to joining him in this effort, and restoring choice and affordability to our healthcare system, while preserving protections for those most in-need. Rest assured that I will keep your views in mind as Congress discusses repeal and replacement options in the coming weeks and months.

I hope you will continue to be in contact as Congress debates the many issues of importance to the country. I also encourage you to connect with me on Facebook and Twitter and to sign up for my e-newsletter for the latest updates on my work to represent Central Washington’s views in our nation’s capital.

Thank you again for taking the time to share your concerns with me—I am always glad to hear from constituents of the 4th District. It is an honor and privilege to serve you in Congress.

Rep. Newhouse's staff and I are going to become very well-acquainted. His number is programmed into my phone.

No comments: