The Debate Over Affordable Care Act Continues

D.C. Residents

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District residents have split views on the plan offered by U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) to keep the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for the next two years.

Affordable Care Act

The Alexander-Murray plan would not only keep the ACA, otherwise known as Obamacare, subsidies in place for two years, 2018 and 2019, but also give states and the District of Columbia more flexibility to seek waivers from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services from the requirements of the health care coverage law. In addition, it would allow insurance companies to sell less competitive plans to all customers, not just those who are under the age of 29.

The Alexander-Murray proposal has the support of 12 Democrats and 12 Republicans but none of the Blacks in the Senate, including Corey Booker (New Jersey), Kamala Harris (California) and Republican Tim Scott (R-S.C.) have signed onto the bill, but that is just fine with Ward 7 resident Ralph Chittams Sr.

“During the 2016 campaign, the Republican candidates for Congress ran on repealing the Affordable Care Act,” Chittams told the AFRO. “They promised to do it and they are a bunch of liars. We put them in office and what have they done?”

Earlier this year, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that repealed President Obama’s signature accomplishment largely on party lines with Democrats against it and a majority of Republicans for the legislation. In the Senate, a measure pushed by some conservatives failed in the summer with three Republicans, U.S. Sens. Susan Collins (R-Me.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), voting down the conservative proposal in late July and a bill by Sens. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) in late September was not voted on because of lack of majority support.

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Chittams, a former vice chairman of the D.C. Republican Party, said a health care plan he could support would allow consumers to purchase health insurance across state lines, saying that will increase competition and drive down prices.

Regarding the Alexander-Murray plan, Chittams is dismissive.

“They just kicked the plan down to 2018,” he said, pointing out the mid-term elections that will take place in November of that year.

Chittams does like the spirit of President Donald J. Trump’s recent executive order halting Obamacare subsidy payments but not the process.

“Executive orders are messy,” he said. “When a new president comes to office, he can change it. President Trump’s order needs to be done with legislation.”

Trump initially said he supported the Alexander-Murray plan, but last week dropped his support, saying it would be a boon for the insurance companies. Theoretically, the bill would pass easily if all the Democrats and the two independents supported it, along with the 12 Republican sponsors.

Oliver Spurgeon is a Ward 8 resident and serves as the chairman of the issues and legislation committee of the Ward 8 Democrats. He works in the health care policy and advocacy field and is well aware of the Alexander-Murray proposal.

While he couldn’t comment directly on that bill, he does have ideas on what ideal health care legislation for District residents would be. Ninety-six percent of District residents are covered by some mode of health insurance, according to data from D.C. Health Link, and it is only second to Massachusetts in the country.

Spurgeon told the AFRO that the enrollment period for keeping and obtaining new health insurance needs to remain open as long as possible.

“In the District of Columbia, the enrollment period is from November 1 to January 31 and that is good,” he said. “This will give people enough time to make good decisions on what to do regarding health insurance enrollment.”

Spurgeon said that the subsidies should remain.

“D.C. is an expensive city,” he said. “Costs in housing and living expenses are increasing and the subsidies will help those who are at the lower end of the income scale gets some assistance to pay for health plans.

“You cannot go to school and go to work when you are sick. Keeping the subsidies as low as possible is the right thing to do,” Spurgeon said.