06:14 - Source: CNN
"Pre-existing conditions" popping into midterm ads

Editor’s Note: Bill Cassidy is a doctor and Republican senator from Louisiana on the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee. The views expressed here are solely his. View more opinion articles on CNN.

(CNN) —  

Remember when Democrats promised that if you liked your plan or your doctor you could keep them? Now they’re pushing another bogus claim, accusing Republicans of wanting to take away health insurance protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

Bill Cassidy
PHOTO: U.S. Senate Photographic Studio
Bill Cassidy

Here’s the truth: everyone — Republicans and Democrats — support protecting people with pre-existing conditions.

Way back in 2009, Republicans proposed a health care plan “to guarantee all Americans, regardless of pre-existing conditions or past illnesses, have access to affordable coverage.” A 2009 news report noted that President Obama’s plan to provide insurance coverage to Americans with pre-existing conditions would “borrow from” Senator John McCain’s 2008 platform. When Democrats presented the framework of Obamacare in September 2009, the Republican response laid out “four important areas where we can agree.” The very first one was that “All individuals should have access to coverage, regardless of pre-existing conditions.”

Republicans supported these protections then, and they continue to support them now. The reason Democrats are claiming otherwise and trying to rewrite history is simple: They’re trying to protect the status quo created by Obamacare and set the stage for a single-payer health care system. They’re using the nine pages of Obamacare that deal with pre-existing conditions to defend the entire law – all 961 pages.

That’s silly. We don’t have to protect Obamacare to protect people with pre-existing conditions. I have introduced and supported other legislation to achieve that goal. And further, many people with pre-existing conditions have been losers under Obamacare.

One Colorado woman with a pre-existing condition had been covered by a high-risk pool for years, but her insurance plan was canceled under Obamacare. “Since then, my premiums skyrocketed. In 2017, I paid $735 a month with total out-of-pocket costs of $5,500. In 2018, my premiums went up to $1,100 a month with a deductible of $6,300,” said Janet. “I have to spend $19,500 before my insurance pays anything, and it doesn’t cover all my prescription costs. My old plan was almost a third of what I have to pay now.”

After four-year-old Colette in Virginia was diagnosed with cancer, her family became entangled in a nightmare of insurance company red tape that reflects both problems with Obamacare and the risks of letting the political uncertainty around health care continue. Their only option for health insurance did not cover the only local hospital with a pediatric cancer unit. They had to consider moving to a new zip code just to get the coverage they needed.

Americans don’t have to be stuck forever with high deductibles, eye-popping premiums and fewer choices, but increasingly the only change to the status quo Democrats support is “Medicare for all.” It may sound nice, but it’s actually a plan to end Medicare as we know it. Not only do studies show it would cost more than $32 trillion over 10 years, but taxes on families would have to be doubled or tripled to pay for it. Everyone who gets health insurance through their job would be kicked off their plan. And Medicare — a critically important program seniors rely on that is already projected to run out of money in just eight years — would in a few short years have to cover everyone in the country. The reality is that “Medicare for all” is Medicare for none.

Instead of more government-run health care, we need to give patients the power. Right now, the system is rigged in favor of lawyers and lobbyists — and against patients. Since 2009, the stock values of major health care companies have gone up more than 1,100%, and in one case, 4,000%. Meanwhile, some families’ insurance premiums have gone up year after year.

Giving patients the power will lower their costs. We should increase price transparency so that patients can shop around and know the price of a visit or test before they get it, not six weeks later when they get a bill in the mail. We should go after monopolies so that companies have to compete for a patient’s business instead of charging whatever they want.

We should give states flexibility to customize their programs while protecting people with pre-existing conditions, just like we have for years with the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). And we should reduce the cost of prescriptions by cracking down on the gimmicks drug makers use to game the system.

With a Republican-led House and Senate, we’ve already made some progress toward lowering health care costs. We passed legislation prohibiting gag clauses that ban pharmacists from telling customers they could save money on their prescription by paying cash. By ensuring patients are no longer kept in the dark, we’re giving patients the power to make better choices. That’s how we should approach more reforms.

The big companies and special interest groups may not like it, but they’ve reaped record profits from the current system they worked with Democrats to create. Meanwhile, too many Americans are still uninsured, too many families have coverage that is too expensive to be meaningful, and too many patients are struggling to pay their medical bills.

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Democrats want to double down on this status quo. Republicans want to pass solutions that lower health care costs for families and give patients the power. That’s the difference at stake in the midterm elections — and it has nothing to do with pre-existing conditions.