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The Hill: The truth, the whole truth about protecting preexisting conditions

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Washington, October 30, 2020 | comments
by Rep. Michael C. Burgess
Originally published in The Hill

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing left a vacancy on the highest court of the land. When President Trump nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett to replace the late justice, much of the debate centered not on Judge Barrett’s merits and qualifications, but around the future of the American health care system.

Since the inception of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Democrats have used the inclusion of preexisting conditions as a weapon against Republicans in the health care narrative. Preexisting conditions do not recognize party lines. That’s something I know and understand personally since I live with one, have a child with one, and even have staff members with them.

Being a doctor, I took an oath to do no harm. When it comes to putting forward sound health policy, I take that oath very seriously. It is frustrating that some choose to play politics instead of putting forward solutions to this critical issue.

It is argued that Congress needs to act now to ensure that the case before the Supreme Court does not jeopardize health care for millions of Americans. Yet this Congress, there have been four separate occasions when the House of Representatives could have supported protecting those with preexisting conditions regardless of how the Supreme Court rules on the ACA. In each instance, politics took the place of passing sound legislation.

Many have said that those who have been infected with this coronavirus are now considered to have a preexisting condition. It is ironic that in January 2019, a year before we were even aware of this virus, Republicans put forward a resolution that would guarantee that no American could be denied health insurance coverage, or charged more in premiums or cost sharing, due to a previous illness or their health status.

It goes further. Republican leaders on the House’s two health committees put forward H. Res. 280. This resolution would require the administration and Congress to come together and protect Americans with preexisting conditions, lower premiums, reduce drug prices, and strengthen Medicare and employer provided coverage. Not once but twice this resolution was voted down by the House Democrats.

Finally, on May 9, 2019, the same day Democrats rejected the Walden/Brady resolution for the second time, a motion to ensure that no state can waive protections for preexisting conditions under any circumstance was also defeated.

Fortunately, President Trump and his administration have continued to work to protect those with preexisting conditions. In September, behind the leadership of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the House Republican Conference renewed its commitment to protecting those with preexisting conditions in our “Commitment to America.”

Instead of looking to put another notch on their political scorecard, Democrats should have taken the time to work with Republicans to solidify preexisting condition protections into law. They still can. Republicans remain ready at the table to move toward a health care system that will serve all Americans, increase options and transparency while lowering costs.

It is time to step away from the notion that Washington knows best. Health care should have never been placed in the hands of bureaucrats. Doctors need to be permitted to be doctors again. We need to return authority to the states to oversee their health care markets and encourage interstate collaboration.

Those who suffer from a preexisting condition understand that there are no one-size-fits-all solutions, either in medicine or in government policies. Instead of moving forward, Democrats continue to fight for an unconstitutional law and reject passing bipartisan legislation to protect patients.

Congress needs to move away from the political scorecard and stop waiting for the courts to fix the problems we have created. If that is done, we would be able to return to judging future justices on their merit while providing lasting solutions for the American patient.

Michael C. Burgess, M.D., represents the 26th District of Texas and the ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Health Committee. 

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