The Affordable Care Act is far from dead, but it could be better with some smart improvements to shore up the individual insurance market.
Despite the best efforts of the president and the Republican-controlled Congress, the Affordable Care Act is proving extremely difficult to kill.
A record number of people have signed up for health insurance through the Washington state exchange during this fall’s ACA enrollment period. About 230,000 people have signed up so far — an incredible 35 percent increase over the same time period.
Numbers were also pretty strong nationally, despite the fake-news message from the White House that Obamacare is dying.
About 8.8 million people signed up for health insurance in the 39 states served by the federal HealthCare.gov website. That’s down slightly from the 9.2 million people during last year’s open enrollment period.
Yes, the new federal tax law eliminates the mandate that every American have health insurance or pay a fine. While Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler calls that a body blow against the ACA, he says it is not a knockout punch.
Many efforts are underway to stabilize the individual health insurance market in both Olympia and Washington, D.C.
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, is still working with Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, to restore federal dollars to subsidize insurance premiums and to revive the federal reinsurance program. The latter gives insurance companies a safety net to help them pay unusually large claims.
Kreidler is working a parallel track in Washington to establish a reinsurance program, which would cost the state about $200 million a year. But if lawmakers take action by the beginning of February, Washington may get some money from the federal government to help pay for it.
And there are two potential solutions for the federal Children’s Health Insurance Program, which provides health insurance to children of low-income families who earn too much for Medicaid and aren’t covered by employers. About 9 million children could lose their insurance.
Of course, Congress should reauthorize the program. Federal money for states will run out at the end of 2017. Republicans in Congress have shown a willingness to add $1.5 trillion to the national debt to cut taxes for the rich and corporations. But they have yet to find the $75 billion needed to reauthorize CHIP for five more years. They must get to work on this after the holiday break.
In case Congress does not fix this problem, state Sen. Mark Miloscia, R-Federal Way, has proposed a state solution. He wants to expand Medicaid, or Apple Health, to include all children whose families earn up to 312 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $64,728 for a family of three, unless their parents have health insurance through work. This is a smart idea, in part, because it would likely bring more federal dollars to Washington state, to pay for the expansion.
All that is needed is enough political pressure to turn these fine proposals into law. Readers: Jan. 2 would be a good time for citizens to get back on the phone to lawmakers in Olympia and Washington, D.C.