Additional statement of Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (NJ-11) - American Health Care Act

Any discussion of the American Health Care Act (AHCA) must begin with the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  I hear from the personal pleas of constituents that “Obamacare” is failing to make their health care affordable with skyrocketing premiums, soaring deductibles, and fewer choices for them and their families.  

In addition, Obamacare continues to wreak havoc in the job market.  The ACA has damaged small businesses by raising taxes, discouraging hiring and encouraging fewer working hours and, in effect, lowering wages of employees.

So today, seven years after enactment of the Affordable Care Act, we must make positive changes to rescue healthcare in America. Doing nothing is not an option!  Doing nothing means more insurance companies pull out of the market and people literally have no coverage at all!

At the outset, I want to reassure New Jersey families that the bill before us protects those with pre-existing conditions.   The measure we might have voted on weeks ago was unacceptable, but recent changes made it a better bill.

This bill repeals Obamacare’s taxes and mandate penalties, dismantles the law’s one-size-fits-all programs, and shifts control of health care back to states and the American people. While this legislation is not perfect, or the complete solution to our broken health care system, the AHCA is a step in the right direction toward a market-based 21st century health care system.  On balance, the American Health Care Act offers promise.

In addition to repealing billions in taxes and penalties that drive up costs and limit choices for New Jersey families, AHCA lowers costs by promoting competition, innovation, and choice.

The bill helps low- and middle-income Americans gain access to care by providing a monthly portable tax credit.  The measure also expands Health Savings Accounts (HSA) so patients can save and spend their health care dollars the way they see fit.

Clearly, New Jersey is a state with an older population.  Recognizing that, this legislationprovides $85 billion to provide additional support for Americans ages 50 to 64 who face higher health care costs. Combined with the current age-based tax credit and other provisions, this will help deliver meaningful support for the individuals and families who need it most.

Unlike Obamacare, the new bill recognizes that different states have different health systems and requirements. This legislation provides states, like New Jersey, with the flexibility to better serve the individuals and families in local communities and to strengthen their Medicaid programs and ensure our nation’s most vulnerable patients have access to the care they need.  I would add that that flexibility comes with additional federal dollars.

There are numerous other positive reforms that seek to undo the damage of Obamacare.  For example, this bill:

  • replaces premium subsidies, which could only be used on the ACA’s exchanges, with refundable tax credits that can be used on both exchange or non-exchange plans;
  • establishes a $138 billion fund to help states stabilize their markets and lower costs for consumers, at least $15 billion must be used specifically  for mental health and substance use disorders and maternity care;
  • increases maximum contribution limit to Health Savings Accounts to deductible and out-of-pocket limitation.

I am aware that this measure has been criticized for an alleged failure to protect people with pre-existing medical conditions.  However, under this legislation insurance companies cannot deny anyone coverage based on pre-existing conditions. And your health status cannot affect your premiums, unless your state asks for and receives a waiver—a condition of which is the state having other protections in place for those with pre-existing conditions. Even if a state does obtain a waiver, so long as you’ve been continuously covered, you still cannot be charged more. And the bill provides added resources to help people in waiver states who have not been continuously covered to gain coverage. The bottom line, there are many levels of protection for those with pre-existing conditions in the legislation.

Further, I strongly believe that Members of Congress and our staff must abide by the same laws as everyone else. While an amended section of the American Health Care Act would not apply to Members of Congress and staff, a necessity in order to comply with the rules of budget reconciliation, I was pleased to vote for additional legislation today, H.R. 2192, which will ensure that Members of Congress and staff would not be exempt from any provisions in the American Health Care Act should it become law.

In March, I expressed my opposition to an earlier version of this bill because it placed new costs and barriers to care on my constituents in New Jersey.  In addition, that bill’s denial of essential health benefits in the individual market raised serious coverage and cost issues. However, essential health benefits have been re-instated as a federal requirement in this version.

The citizens of this nation deserve better than a Congress that appears to be incapable of resolving controversial issues like health care reform.  In this regard, I feel that we must move a bill to the Senate where significant changes to improve this imperfect product will certainly occur.  I am hopeful that we will have a better proposal when it comes back from the Senate. For that reason, I intend to support passage of this latest version with the commitment that if the basic access to services is not protected, I will not support final passage of the House-Senate Conference report.

It bears repeating that Obamacare, though well-intentioned, has failed: it’s failed in its goals, and it’s failed in its promises.  Some people may be willing to stand by and watch it collapse.  However, I am not willing to leave middle-class working Americans with a poor quality, expensive, bureaucratic, dysfunctional health care system.