WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) introduced the Health Care Improvement Act, legislation that builds on the progress of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to expand health care coverage, reduce costs, and protect Americans with preexisting conditions.
“Ten years ago, I was proud to vote for the Affordable Care Act. Since that time, despite relentless attacks by the Trump Administration and Republicans trying to dismantle the law, our country has made enormous strides in making health care coverage affordable, accessible, and available to more Americans,” said Sen. Warner. “But in spite of our progress, too many families are still struggling to deal with spiraling health care costs and a shortage of affordable options in their area. I’m proud to introduce this legislation to reduce health care costs for working families and increase access to care for uninsured Virginians while continuing to protect all Americans with preexisting conditions.”
The Health Care Improvement Act will reduce costs for working families by:
- Eliminating the existing premium subsidy cliff on the ACA exchanges: The Health Care Improvement Act will ensure no individual or families pays more than 8.5 percent of their total household income for their health insurance. Currently, no family making more than 400 percent of the federal poverty line ($51,040 for an individual in 2020) is eligible for premium assistance on the ACA exchanges. This provision expands premium assistance to individuals making more than 400 percent of the federal poverty line and places a cap on insurance costs for all individuals and families on the ACA exchanges.
- Establishing a low-cost public health care option: The Health Care Improvement Act will also require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to create a low-cost, public health care option for individuals who are eligible to enroll for health care coverage via the ACA exchanges. Establishing a public health care option will increase competition and ensure an added lower cost health care option for more American families.
- Enacting a federal ban on surprise medical bills: Nearly 60 percent of Americans have received a surprise medical bill for services they thought would be covered by their insurance. The Health Care Improvement Act will create additional federal protections to ensure Americans no longer receive surprise medical bills.
- Authorizing the federal government to negotiate prescription drug prices: Under existing federal law, the government is explicitly banned from negotiating with pharmaceutical companies for lower drug prices. The Health Care Improvement Act will allow the federal government to leverage its purchasing power to negotiate prices and reduce drug costs for more than 37 million seniors on Medicare.
- Allowing insurers to offer health care coverage across state boundaries: The Health Care Improvement Act will allow insurers to offer health care coverage across state boundaries, increasing choice and competition among plans and driving down costs while maintaining quality, value and strong consumer protections.
- Supporting state-run reinsurance programs: The Health Care Improvement Act will will create a new “State Health Insurance Affordability and Innovation Fund” to support state run reinsurance programs and additional state efforts to reduce premium costs and expand health care coverage. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has previously estimated such programs could reduce health care premiums by 8 percent within one year.
The Health Care Improvement Act will increase access to affordable health care coverage by:
- Incentivizing states to expand Medicaid: If all states were to expand their Medicaid programs, the number of uninsured Americans would decrease by more than 2 million. The Health Care Improvement Act will provide additional incentive to states to expand their Medicaid program by temporarily increasing federal matching funds to states that expand their programs and reducing existing administrative payments to states that do not expand their programs. It would also provide retroactive payments to states like Virginia that were late to expand Medicaid and have not received their fair share of federal matching payments.
- Expanding Medicaid eligibility for new moms: The Health Care Improvement Act will allow states to provide new mothers up to 12 months of postpartum Medicaid eligibility. This provision would significantly improve maternal health outcomes by ensuring mothers have access to vital health care services during the immediate months after giving birth.
- Simplifying enrollment: There are over 7 million Americans currently eligible for cost-free Medicaid coverage, but who are not enrolled due a variety of factors including unnecessary paperwork and a confusing enrollment process. The Health Care Improvement Act will simplify Medicaid and CHIP enrollment by permanently authorizing the successful Medicaid Express Lane Eligibility program and expanding it to include adults. The Department of Health and Human Services will also be required to conduct a study and develop recommendation to allow states to further implement Medicaid and CHIP auto-enrollment for individuals eligible for cost-free coverage.
- Increasing Medicaid funding for states with high levels of unemployment: The Health Care Improvement Act will implement a counter-cyclical Medicaid matching payment from the federal government to ensure that states with high levels of unemployment receive a higher federal matching payment to appropriately account for an increase in Medicaid enrollment. This will ensure states can maintain affordable health care coverage during economic downturns and temporary periods of high unemployment.
- Funding rural health care providers: Under current law, rural providers are unfairly compensated at a much lower rate than urban providers, making it more difficult for Virginia providers to keep their doors open in underserved communities. The Health Care Improvement Act will create a rural floor for the Area Wage Index formula the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid use to reimburse rural providers. Fixing the Area Wage Index will boost access to affordable health care coverage in Virginia’s rural and medically underserved communities.
- Reducing burdens on small businesses: The Health Care Improvement Act will modernize ACA employer reporting requirements to ensure that businesses can provide comprehensive health care benefits to their employees without additional administrative costs or unnecessary paperwork.
“The Virginia Poverty Law Center applauds Senator Warner’s introduction of comprehensive legislation on health care. His bill addresses a wide range of critical issues for consumers in Virginia and across the country. We strongly support his proposed improvements in ACA health plan affordability, enhanced application assistance, incentives for more states to adopt Medicaid expansion, continuity of health care for new mothers, reduction in Medicare drug prices, and consumer protections from surprise billing. We encourage Congress to move quickly on this omnibus legislation that will help so many consumers during and after the COVID pandemic,” said Jill Hanken, Health Attorney, the Virginia Poverty Law Center.
“The Virginia Community Healthcare Association represents more than 150 health center sites, serving over 350,000 individuals across the Commonwealth with the goal of ensuring access to primary care for all Virginians,” said Rick Shinn, Director of Government Affairs for the Virginia Community Healthcare Association. “We applaud Senator Mark Warner’s Health Care Improvement Act of 2020, which advances our shared goal of expanding affordable health care coverage to more individuals and families across the Commonwealth.”
“The Arc of Northern Virginia and the Autism Society of Northern Virginia are supportive of Senator Warner's Health Care Improvement Act of 2020,” said Lucy Beadnell, Director of Advocacy of the Arc of Northern Virginia and Sharon Cummings Advocacy Chair of the Autism Society of Northern Virginia & Arc of Northern Virginia. “The proposed legislation gets at the core of some healthcare challenges for people with disabilities, particularly issues with healthcare affordability, and ensures people with pre-existing conditions are able to receive affordable care. Many individuals with disabilities are born with pre-existing conditions and battled mightily to find appropriate care for years before the passage of the ACA and we cannot risk returning to a system where people spend their lifetimes in a battle to get basic health care.”
“The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis supports actions to bolster the Affordable Care Act and ensure more people in Virginia can access, maintain, and utilize affordable and comprehensive health coverage. Opportunities for states to receive federal funding to pursue proven policies to lower consumer costs, such as a state reinsurance program as is currently being considered in Virginia, are critically important to the health and economic well-being of families across the Commonwealth. And increased federal funding for Medicaid during an economic downturn has proven to be crucial in responding to the health and economic crises of COVID-19 and would ensure Virginia has the resources to prioritize health care coverage for families across the state during challenging times,” said Freddy Mejia, Health Policy Analyst, the Commonwealth Institute.
“We at the American Medical Student Association (AMSA) believe that access to quality health care is a right, not a privilege, and that access to comprehensive health services must be recognized and protected as a basic human right. To that end, we support this effort to expand health care coverage in the U.S. AMSA especially supports Medicaid eligibility expansion, the simplification of enrollment procedures for Medicaid and SCHIP programs, and the expansion of federal financing. AMSA applauds Senator Warner and the Health Care Improvement Act,” Dr. Ali Bokhari, President of American Medical Student Association, said.
“As President Trump and his Republican allies try to rip coverage away from millions of Americans in the middle of a public health crisis, Senator Warner is working to make health care more accessible and affordable for the American people,” said Brad Woodhouse, Executive Director of Protect Our Care. “Senator Warner’s bill would take bold steps to reduce costs, expand coverage, and strengthen protections for people with pre-existing conditions at a time when access to affordable health care has never been more critical. Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans should prioritize the health and well-being of Americans by working with Senator Warner to build on the success of the Affordable Care Act and abandon their disastrous lawsuit to take health care away.”
“The Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD) is aware of how access challenges and high costs in our health care system disproportionally affect people with disabilities. We appreciate Senator Warner’s commitment to work closely with the disability community as he leads efforts to address plastics pollution. AUCD supports the Health Care Improvement Act of 2020 and its commitment to address the pressing needs of reducing health care costs and protecting the rights of people with disabilities,” said Rylin Rodgers, Policy Director, the Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD).
“The pandemic has exacerbated the deep, structural problems in our health care system: namely, cost is far too big of a burden and not enough people have adequate protection. We must make real reforms to health care, and Third Way applauds Senator Mark Warner for the leadership he has shown in the Health Care Improvement Act of 2020,” said Gabe Horwitz, Senior Vice President for the Economic Program at Third Way. “Among its very important provisions, this legislation would expand coverage by making enrollment in Medicaid automatic whenever a low-income uninsured patient accesses health care. As Third Way has long called for, automatic enrollment makes health care easier for people to navigate and is an important step to achieve universal coverage. The Warner legislation also builds on the Affordable Care Act and makes coverage affordable for millions of middle-class families who currently fall through gaps in the program. And it provides financial relief to states during economic downturns like the one we’re experiencing now by increasing the federal share of Medicaid payments to the states. Americans need far more security and stability in their health care, and we are excited about the vision shown in Senator Warner’s bill.”
Sen. Warner has been a longtime champion of access to health care, and has been an outspoken opponent of the Trump Administration’s efforts to overturn the Affordable Care Act in court. Last year, Sen. Warner led the entire Senate Democratic Caucus in a legislative maneuver to protect health coverage for Americans with preexisting conditions from the Trump Administration’s attempts to undermine those safeguards. Amid the coronavirus health crisis, Sen. Warner has been a fierce advocate in demanding that the Trump Administration stop its health care sabotage that has undermined our preparedness for and ability to respond to COVID-19. Recently, Sen. Warner penned an op-ed sounding the alarm of the devastating effects the health and economic crisis caused by COVID-19 has had on record high uninsured rates across the country.