The House Ways and Means Committee Jan. 29 held a hearing on protecting Americans with pre-existing conditions. Although the hearing revealed deep partisan tensions related to the pre-existing conditions issue, committee members on both sides of the aisle outlined several policy priorities for consideration in the 116th Congress including lowering health care costs, allowing people to buy into Medicare, and improving association health plans for individuals who do not qualify for subsidies under the 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148).
In their opening statements, both Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) and Ranking Member Kevin Brady (R-Texas) highlighted the need to protect Americans with pre-existing conditions from being denied health insurance coverage and cited a provision in the ACA that prohibited Americans from being denied coverage if they had a pre-existing condition. Specifically, Chairman Neal said, “When the ACA became law, new safeguards went into place that put a stop to these practices. Our health care system’s protections really matter for American families’ peace of mind, and for their pocket books.”
Throughout the hearing, both Democrats and Republicans on the committee echoed their support of this provision. Democrats, however, pushed back on Republicans’ claims of support by citing their repeated attempts to repeal the ACA. Republicans responded by claiming that despite their numerous attempts at repeal, they included language, specifically the “MacArthur Amendment,” that would have preserved protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions even if the ACA was repealed. Brady stated that, “Of course, Republicans support protections for people with pre-existing conditions. We included these protections in our House-approved alternative to the ACA. Section 137 of the American Health Care Act (H.R.1628) said clearly: ‘Nothing in this Act shall be construed as permitting health insurance issuers to limit access to health coverage for individuals with preexisting conditions.’”
Members on both sides of the aisle expressed interest in testimony from Chief Administrator of the Nebraska Farm Bureau Rob Robertson who highlighted the implementation of the Nebraska Farm Bureau’s association health plan (AHP). Mr. Robertson noted that his group’s AHP was compliant with the ACA, and emphasized the importance of sharing risk to cover association health plans, stating that, “we do not view our AHP as an attack on the ACA, but a companion to it that provides our member families with another health insurance option that offers them quality care at a reduced cost.” Both Democrats and Republicans expressed interest in strengthening AHPs to increase the number of covered individuals.