Paying for healthcare shouldn’t bankrupt families

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Healthcare costs in the U.S. are too high. Americans struggle to afford basic needs like prescription drugs and too often face crushing surprise bills after undergoing necessary medical procedures. Seniors in particular feel the weight of health expenses when they discover that the Medicare benefits they earned don’t always provide sufficient coverage.

While the Affordable Care Act instituted protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions, guaranteed essential health benefits and made some progress in lowering patients’ costs, those advancements are under attack in the courts and through regulatory actions. I chair the House Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over a great deal of our nation’s healthcare system, including Medicare. Under Democratic leadership, we are fighting to bring down healthcare costs and preserve critical existing health protections.

Our committee hit the ground running this year. The first hearing I convened as chairman focused on protecting Americans with pre-existing conditions. Nearly 130 million Americans have a pre-existing condition—anything from asthma to cancer to diabetes. Thanks to the ACA, insurance companies can no longer refuse to cover these individuals. The hearing shed light on the importance of this safeguard and the ways it provides Americans with greater peace of mind and financial security.

We also highlighted the immense pain families will endure if 18 Republican state attorneys general succeed in their case to repeal the law.

House Democrats, along with Democratic state attorneys general, jumped into this court battle and continue to defend the millions of Americans with health conditions from discrimination and financial ruin.

We also took concrete steps to increase transparency and lower drug prices. Ways and Means advanced legislation that sheds light across the healthcare supply chain—from pharmaceutical manufacturers to pharmacy benefit managers—to help reduce costs for families. More can be done. In the coming months, the committee will consider legislation to improve the Medicare Part D program, establishing an out-of-pocket cap on expenses for beneficiaries. This would lower costs for seniors and save taxpayers money.

Part D reform is just one way to improve Medicare for beneficiaries. Many seniors aren’t aware that Medicare does not cover routine vision, hearing or dental exams. I will work to change that. Helping seniors access the glasses, hearing aids or dental care they need will save them money on the front end. This coverage will also prevent the trauma and expense of falls or other related health problems that could arise down the road as a result of inadequate services.

Some of the most jarring and devastating medical costs Americans encounter are surprise medical bills. Ways and Means plans to tackle this problem too. We are crafting legislation now that will help patients avoid the huge expenses that follow inadvertently being treated by out-of-network providers.

Healthcare is a necessity and it’s a human right. Paying for it shouldn’t bankrupt families. We can lower patient costs without stifling medical innovation or throwing hospitals into turmoil. It’s possible to achieve commonsense solutions that strengthen our nation’s healthcare system while reducing the burden on consumers.

More commentaries from members of the 116th Congress on the state of healthcare

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