Five years, nine months, and nine days — within the course of American history — is not a very long time. However, it was only that long ago that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) radically transformed the healthcare system in this country.
Before Jan. 1, 2014, when the bulk of the ACA went into effect, Americans were completely at the mercy of an inequitable and unfair healthcare system: Insurers could place lifetime limits on covering essential benefits; drop your coverage if you got sick; or simply deny you coverage for “pre-existing” conditions. The ACA not only removed these outrageous barriers to getting health insurance, it gave all Americans, irrespective of provider, access to better quality and more affordable health insurance.
In light of this, we should all recognize that the ACA was a leap, not just a step, toward a better healthcare system for all Americans. This is especially true for people in Greater Miami. Not only do more than half of people under 65 in my congressional district — 332,000 people — have a preexisting condition, but my district and Miami-Dade County have the highest enrollment in the ACA Health Insurance Marketplace in the country. In fact, more than 100,000 people in my district are getting quality, affordable health insurance through the ACA exchange. Many of these people did not have health insurance and could not get it a mere six years ago.
Despite these incredible advances, we have an entire political party, starting with the president, that is still trying to repeal the ACA and go back to the days when 133 million Americans could be prevented from accessing affordable, comprehensive health coverage.
The ACA has done more than simply expand access to care. It has also fostered a healthcare environment that promotes innovation and affordability. Since assuming office, I have made it a priority to meet with local healthcare leaders in Miami-Dade and across the country, to learn hands-on about what it means to both receive and deliver care in our communities today. By harnessing technology and promoting coordination between providers and health plans, the healthcare community is actively working to improve not only patients’ health, but also their experiences with the health system. For example, care facilities in South Florida now are working with health plans to deliver innovative preventive care services and other cost-saving benefits that allow patients to live longer, healthier lives.
Although the ACA has been successful in improving our healthcare system, there is still much work to be done to protect and improve it. That is why I have spent my first year in Congress working with colleagues to pass meaningful healthcare reforms aimed at lowering costs and expanding access to care.
I fought to reverse funding cuts to the ACA by supporting the MORE Health Education Act, which would expand Medicaid benefits to better serve dual eligible seniors and individuals with disabilities, lower the surging cost of prescription drugs and encourage public-private partnerships that bolster our nation’s preparedness for public health crises.
I am also proud to have supported the Protecting Americans with Preexisting Conditions Act of 2019, legislation the U.S. passed recently that prohibits the president from allowing insurance companies to deny access to healthcare for those with preexisting conditions. I am committed to spending the rest of my time in Congress to protecting, defending and improving the ACA.
To that end, I am currently working with a bipartisan group of colleagues to end so-called surprise medical bills. Patients who receive services from providers who, unbeknownst to them, are not in their network should be protected from unexpected medical bills. We also have bold legislation to reduce drug prices, in part by allowing the federal government to negotiate with drug companies. It will be through these and similar proposals that Congress can support access to quality, affordable healthcare.
We should keep in mind that innovation driven by today’s healthcare system is not just about convenience, it is about improving patient outcomes and reducing cost, two objectives that truly have the power to change lives. Protecting access to quality healthcare for my constituents has been a priority of mine since Day One of my time in office, and I will continue to operate in Washington on behalf of patients in South Florida and around the country.
That’s a promise.
U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala represents Florida’s District 27 in the U.S. House.