Congress Takes Step Toward Repeal of the Affordable Care Act
The U.S. Senate took a first step toward repealing the Affordable Care Act, known also as Obamacare, with the passing of a budget resolution in the early morning hours of January 12.
With the Presidential Inauguration just over a week away, the vote in the Senate shows willingness among some members of Congress to remove, or repeal, the ACA quickly. The budget resolution is expected to go to a vote in the House of Representatives Friday.
But this week’s vote will not have any immediate effects on people getting medical care or with insurance through the Marketplace. Joanna Fawzy Morales, CEO of Triage Cancer, a national nonprofit organization connecting people to cancer survivorship resources, says the passing of the budget resolution is important because it moves the repeal of the ACA from a possibility to something Republicans are moving forward on.
Why Does a Budget Resolution Matter?
What the Senate passed on Thursday is called a budget resolution. It is not a direct repeal of the ACA but an instruction to congressional committees on money they want added to or removed from the budget.
In this case, the budget resolution is targeted at parts of the ACA. Congressional committees will have a few weeks to reply with a plan, called a reconciliation bill. The reconciliation bill is scheduled to be presented January 27, but some Republicans want to push the deadline to March 3, according to a January 12 article in the New York Times.
Unlike most bills, which can usually be blocked by the opposition, the budget resolution can be passed with a simple majority, or 51 votes in the Senate. Congress would not be able to repeal requirements on insurance companies through a reconciliation bill, but it could take other actions that weaken the ACA, such as:
- removing penalties for people who do not get insurance or employers who do not provide it, according to a January 4 article in the New York Times.
- taking away money from the U.S. government that allowed for the expansion of Medicaid and subsidies for people who bought insurance through the online Marketplaces.
What This Means for You
None of these measures have been passed yet and will likely not affect you immediately. The budget resolution is an outline for Congress to plan cuts to the ACA. Many Republican members of Congress have said they will not pass a bill that will immediately disrupt people’s insurance coverage and access to healthcare.
Ms. Morales says Triage Cancer recommends two things as you wait to see what happens in Congress.
First, make sure you get health coverage through 2017. Based on the language from Congress and the practical obstacles, changes will probably not take effect until next year. Open enrollment through the marketplace runs through the end of January and you can apply for Medicaid year-round.
“We don’t want people to think they have another option coming [and] then miss out on their opportunity for the year,” Ms. Morales says.
Second, if you are concerned about the changes or have benefitted from parts of the ACA, Ms. Morales says to call your Representatives or Senators and share your experience.
“Health coverage has been greatly politicized. And when people say things like ‘Repeal the ACA’ people don’t understand the magnitude of how that might impact them. Some people think repealing the ACA is just the marketplace or Medicaid expansion but it also means the consumer protections go away,” Ms. Morales says.
What Happens Next?
Plans to replace the ACA have been slower to arrive. Republicans in the Congress and President-elect Trump have said they want to continue protecting people with pre-existing conditions and getting more people covered by insurance, as the ACA has done. They have not released a new plan to show how these goals would be met. President-elect Trump said he plans to release a plan.
Republicans have majorities in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, but Democrats are strongly opposed to repealing the ACA. Democrats say they want to fix problems seen this year, like fewer options in the Marketplace and higher premiums, but to fix them with changes to the ACA. They say the law is balanced with certain taxes and requirements that allow other aspects like not letting insurance charge women and people who are sick more, requiring insurance to cover certain things like contraception and not allowing insurance companies to cap how much they will spend on a person in a given year or over a lifetime.
We know little about what will come in place of the ACA. Ms. Morales says this concerns a lot of people who have or had cancer and for whom protections like requiring insurance companies to cover people with pre-existing conditions at regular rates have been important.
You can trust LBBC to bring you accurate information about upcoming changes to the Affordable Care Act and to the U.S. healthcare system. LBBC resources you may find helpful are our newsletter, Insight, including an article in the current issue that explains how to sign up for 2017 healthcare through the Affordable Care Act. If medical bills are weighing you down, you may also find our Guide to Understanding Financial Concerns useful. Look for updates from LBBC in the coming weeks on LBBC.ORG.