As part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), states have been given the ability to innovate or create their own form of health care insurance or coverage starting on January 1, 2017 AS LONG AS “benefits are at least as comprehensive and affordable as those offered by Qualified Health Plans available on the Exchanges,” according to Representative Jim McDermott (D-WA-7).
As a result, at least 14 states—California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, , New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Washington—have community advocates and state legislators working towards implementing a state-level form of universal health care. They have been working for affordable healthcare access for all residents of their states before and since the Affordable Care Act – aka Obamacare – was passed in 2010.
Now that the US Supreme Court has basically settled the fact that the ACA is constitutional both on June 28, 2012 (Florida v. Department of Health and Human Services) and again on June 25, 2015 (King v. Burwell), we can consider ways to improve our healthcare system at both the state and federal level. As a medical doctor and a member of Congress, McDermott voted for the ACA. He also recognizes that “still more needs to be done to control costs, improve care, and cover everyone.”
One way to further control these costs and improve health care while covering everyone is to create a universal health care system which I’ve previously blogged about (see here, here, here, here, and here). That means we either have the federal government create a federal single payer plan OR we use the waiver clause in the ACA to help states create their own universal single-payer health care program.
Yet even with the waiver currently allowed within the ACA for innovative state-based health care plans, creating a state-based universal care plan that saves funds for states and individuals while providing health care access to all has a big hurdle to overcome. Rep. McDermott explained this issue in a speech on the floor of the House of Representatives on July 28:
One of the many achievements of the Affordable Care Act is its provisions that grant states the authority to innovate in their health care systems. Under Section 1332 of the law, a state may apply for a State Innovation Waiver that will provide it with control of federal dollars that otherwise would have been spent on premium tax credits and cost-sharing reductions for its residents. Through this waiver, a state may design a system to cover its residents, so long as benefits are at least as comprehensive and affordable as those offered by Qualified Health Plans available on the Exchanges.
However, even with this flexibility, numerous barriers limit states’ ability to design true single-payer systems. Existing waivers are narrow in scope, requiring states to seek out imperfect and convoluted solutions to circumvent federal limitations. A sweeping preemption provision in the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) denies states authority to regulate employer-sponsored health plans. And, due to the complexities of our existing federal health programs, it is essentially impossible for a state to design a single benefit package that can be administered simply and efficiently on behalf of all of its residents.
This speech was McDermott’s announcement that he was introducing HR 3241, aka the “State-Based Universal Health Care Act of 2015:” If passed, this bill would allow states to apply for a universal health care waiver that would allow them to have access to and authority over federal health care dollars that would otherwise be spent on the residents of that state. More specifically, this additional waiver act goes beyond the ACA to deal with the hurdles mentioned above. The new provisions of this law, according to McDermott, would waive all of the following:
The rules governing premium tax credits and cost-sharing reductions, as provided for in existing waiver authority under Section 1332 of the ACA.
Provisions necessary for states to pool funds that otherwise would be spent on behalf of residents enrolled in Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, TRICARE, and the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program.
ERISA’s preemption clause, which cur-rently forbids states from enacting legislation relating to employee health benefit program
After the introduction of HR 3241, the House referred this bill to five committees — the Committee on Energy and Commerce, the Committee on Ways and Means, the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, the Committee on Armed Services, and the Committee on Education and the Workforce. I believe that the large number of committee referrals was done because of the need to review all of the different laws that this waiver would impact.
You can read the bill in its entirety here.
I am pleased that this bill has been introduced. It however needs many co-sponsors and advocates to pressure Congress to actually hear, review, and pass this legislation. Please contact your US Representative and ask her/him to co-sponsor Representative Jim McDermott, MD’s bill HR 3241. Here’s the lookup page to find your US. Representative by zip code.
As this is the summer, your Representative should be in the home district. Call, write, set up a meeting and tell her/him why you want to see a universal health care program in your state and why this bill is so necessary. If your Representative agrees to sign on, have him/her contact Mr. McDermott’s aides that are focusing on this issue. They are Jayme Shoun, located in Seattle at (206) 553-7170 and Daniel Foster, Health Counsel in the DC Office at (202) 225-3106.