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Standing up for North Dakotans’ healthcare

June 23, 2017
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) , Pierce County Tribune

When Allison Restemayer from West Fargo was almost two years old, she was diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder. Allison's parents were told she would become severely mentally delayed by age three, and that she would likely pass away by 10 years old. Over the past several years, Allison has been able to get a new - very expensive -- therapy that has helped slow the progression of her disorder. Because there are currently no longer lifetime limits on coverage, Allison's family has been able to afford this treatment. Today, Allison is 16 years old.

Allison also needs physical therapy multiple times per week to truly make a difference in her life day-to-day and to help her live longer. Her private insurance covers just 12 physical therapy appointments per year. Allison is one of many children with disabilities or special needs on Medicaid which covers the rest of her physical therapy. For her, it has been a lifeline.

Allison and her mother, Jennifer are inspirations. For them, affordable, accessible health care is real life. And Jennifer will do just about anything to make sure Allison gets it. Unfortunately, politics is getting in the way.

I've long said there are good pieces of the health reform law and parts that need to be fixed. Since 2013, I've regularly held my health care advisory board meetings comprised of health care leaders across North Dakota to talk about how we can improve health care. Over the past three and a half years, I've offered a slew of reforms to make the health reform law work better for families and businesses. This is a discussion Republicans and Democrats must have. It's well past time to stop politics and do policy. But the starting point can't be taking away health care for families.

The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed a health care bill that would rip away health coverage from 23 million Americans by 2026, including more than 30,000 North Dakotans. It would enable insurance companies to impose lifetime maximums on coverage, which many North Dakotans like Allison would reach in no time.

According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office report, the bill would take an axe to Medicaid, cutting about $830 billion from the lifesaving, cost effective program that has enabled 90,000 North Dakota children and individuals with disabilities, seniors, and low-income families to get affordable, quality health care. The bill would take away treatment for opioid abuse that has reached epidemic proportions in North Dakota, as Medicaid also covers for 17.4 percent of opioid treatment payments in our state.

The Republican health care bill would disproportionately hurts those living in rural communities like families all across North Dakota who rely on rural hospitals and rural health clinics for coverage. Without Medicaid to support these hospitals and the patients they serve, these hospitals and clinics could go away.

The CBO report explicitly confirms that the bill could also make health coverage unaffordable for those with pre-existing conditions, like asthma, diabetes, cancer, or being pregnant - including more than 300,000 North Dakotans.

It would do all of this damage while giving a tax cut to individuals making more than $200,000.

Those who voted for it should know better. It wasn't a vote for North Dakota.

Just as the House bill was crafted and pushed through behind closed doors, we're now seeing the same thing happening in the U.S. Senate. Just 13 senators are drafting a bill to revamp the health care system, but they won't allow other senators or the public to see it. They won't even hold hearings on it.

Plus, action and uncertainty caused by the administration - as well as Congress - is creating instability in the insurance markets, threatening significant cost increases for consumers in 2018. Independent reports from CBO and Standard & Poor's have said the insurance markets are expected to stabilize this year unless the administration causes disruptions. This can't be how health care works.

Health care is personal. No family should have to choose between lifesaving care for a loved one and bankruptcy. Allison and her mother have stood up to tell their story. Now we must stand up for North Dakotans like Allison who need affordable, quality care. It's because of that care that Allison's story continues. Let's help it keep moving forward.

 
 

 

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