Opinion

Editorial: Time to shore up Affordable Care Act

One of the clear messages of the midterm elections was the enthusiasm Americans have for the Affordable Care Act. Now that more people have better access to individual health insurance, they want to keep it.

It’s time for Congress to move on from fighting Obamacare and work to improve it. The midterm elections, which resulted in a strong Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, should help. Ideas that had bipartisan support in the Senate, but were previously blocked in the House, should now have a clearer path to the president’s desk.

Open enrollment for 2019 insurance under the ACA began just before the election and will close Dec. 15. Washington residents continue to show enthusiasm for Obamacare, with enrollment at Washington Healthplanfinder up 3 percent over last year’s numbers. Despite marketing cutbacks from Congress and the Trump administration, results so far show this is going to be another good enrollment year. Obamacare is not a failed policy, and it is far from dead.

In polls and on the ballot, voters are saying “yes” to keeping Obamacare. People in four red states — Montana, Idaho, Nebraska and Utah — smartly voted in November to expand access to Medicaid. This key component of the ACA was designed to expand access to health care by raising the eligibility threshold to the working poor.

Now Congress needs to work to make health care affordable for everyone who doesn’t have insurance through employment.

A key to affordability in the individual insurance market is more predictability for insurance companies. The Affordable Care Act was designed with financial incentives to attract and keep insurance companies in the market. The Trump administration has already eliminated some, but it’s not too late to bring back certain incentives.

Congress could shore up the individual insurance market by voting to continue cost-sharing subsidies. Lawmakers also should block the administration’s proposal to offer low-cost, low-benefit plans. And they should restore money to promote the state and federal health-insurance exchanges and the benefits of having insurance.

The Washington state Legislature can do its part by enacting Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler’s proposal for a state reinsurance program — or insurance for the insurance companies when they face big claims. Reinsurance would cost Washington an estimated $200 million, with a quarter of that coming from the federal government.

All of these changes would lead to more affordable insurance for the masses, a stronger insurance marketplace and healthier Americans.

The Affordable Care Act is a popular program that is here to stay. Congress should focus its political energies on making Obamacare stronger.

By the Seattle Times editorial board.

 

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