Washington, D.C., has become too partisan and there is no better example of that than the topic of health care – a deeply personal, complex issue that affects every single one of us and one-sixth of the American economy.
No one believes that the Affordable Care Act is perfect, including us, but both its passage, and the attempts to repeal it, reveal just how broken Washington is.
As our Constitution was being written, legend tells us of a conversation between George Washington and Thomas Jefferson in which our first president compared the House to hot tea, which was then poured into the cooling saucer of the Senate, a metaphor reflecting the more careful, deliberative approach of the upper chamber.
We are deeply concerned that the cooling saucer Washington described more and more resembles an overheated skillet. The Senate was intended to facilitate compromise on legislation, with input from the minority party.
Lately, both parties have challenged this design and have strayed from our original purpose. We both strongly believe in bipartisanship, compromise, and the need for extensive debate. We owe every West Virginian, Mainer, and American careful consideration of the issues that will affect their lives.
In 2010, the ACA passed the House and Senate solely with Democratic support. Last year, Congress attempted to repeal the health care law without a viable replacement – an effort that was again driven by only one party. This legislation was not put through regular order. There were no hearings, days of debate, days of mark up, or amendments to a bill that would have made dramatic, unpredictable changes to our country’s health care system.
We cannot turn back time and undo the mistakes of both parties, of which there are many. All we can do is move forward. One important step we can take is to come together to fix the flaws of the ACA. At this moment, there are two bipartisan bills, that we both support, that will address some of the concerns that our constituents have with the current health care system.
Number 1: After the failed repeal effort last summer, the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Health Committee, Senators Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray, worked together to come up with a compromise bill that takes important steps toward improving the affordability and flexibility of health insurance. Twelve Republicans and 12 Democrats immediately cosponsored the bill. This legislation would allow more affordable insurance products to be sold on the market, and it would give states like West Virginia and Maine greater ability to implement innovative ideas to reduce costs.
Number 2: We also have the Collins-Nelson reinsurance bill ready to go. This bipartisan legislation would create a reinsurance program to help cover the costs of the sickest, most expensive patients so that we can reduce premiums for everyone. An independent analysis found that this bill would lower health insurance premiums in the individual market by as much as 40 percent and expand coverage to an additional 3.2 million people.
These bills are the closest we’ve come to a compromise that would help fix the flaws in the ACA and lower out-of-pocket costs. They are commonsense fixes that have strong, bipartisan support. But even though they would bring relief to millions of Americans struggling to afford their insurance premiums, they have both been blocked from being brought up on the floor for purely partisan reasons.
We cannot go back to a time before the ACA when hard-working families were one illness away from bankruptcy or lacked critical protections for pre-existing conditions. Neither can we ignore the reforms that must be made to make health care more affordable and accessible. Working together with our colleagues, we developed real solutions.
And we’ve never stopped working. We have continued to push for votes on these bills as soon as possible. We must learn from our past mistakes and prioritize the American people over political party. We should conduct bipartisan hearings on other ideas, offer amendments, and open this critically important legislation to debate on the Senate floor.
We owe every West Virginian, Mainer, and American careful consideration of the issues that will affect their lives. We must stop allowing partisanship to be the pre-existing condition that prevents meaningful health care reform.
Senator Manchin is a Democrat from West Viginia seeking re-election Nov. 6. Senator Collins is a four-term Republican senator from Maine whose current term ends in 2020.