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Guest column: Cramer, Hoeven need to listen to North Dakotans on healthcare

By Staff | Jul 14, 2017

Friday marked the end of the July 4th Congressional recess and, if they’ve been listening at all, Congressman Kevin Cramer and Senator John Hoeven should have heard a loud and clear message from North Dakotans all across the state: Protect our health care; don’t undermine it. Lower costs and ensure access to care; don’t hike costs and kick millions of Americans off their insurance.

At this point, it’s clear the Senate Republican health care bill won’t pass as written. Every analysis shows that, like the House bill, the Senate version would be devastating for North Dakota. Working families, individuals with disabilities, senior citizens, children, veterans, low-income Americans – virtually every group that is likely to have acute health care needs – would face higher costs, worse access, and lower quality care.

If the goal is truly to improve our health care, the Senate and House bills cannot serve as the starting point. The question is: Will members of Congress go back to the drawing board and seek meaningful, bipartisan solutions, or will they slap a new coat of varnish on the existing bills so that wavering senators like Hoeven can save political face when they ultimately vote in favor of a terrible bill and must explain themselves to the people they represent?

Just this week, the North Dakota Medical Association and the North Dakota Hospital Association announced their opposition to the Senate bill, saying: “It is estimated that 22 million people will lose their insurance coverage by 2026, 15 million fewer people would have insurance in 2018 than today, and 49 million people would be uninsured by 2026.” Will Hoeven and Cramer go back to the drawing board and find bipartisan solutions that prevent tens of millions of Americans from losing their health insurance?

Last week, the president and CEO of Jamestown Regional Medical Center wrote: “There is nothing in the new health care bills that is good for North Dakota. Nothing.” He added that severe cuts to Medicaid in the bills “will destabilize hospitals in all corners of North Dakota.” Will Hoeven and Cramer go back to the drawing board and find bipartisan solutions that preserve critical funding for North Dakota hospitals, especially those in our rural communities?

AARP of North Dakota, which represents 85,000 North Dakotans above the age of 50, opposes the current bills because they “would mean higher costs and less care for older Americans.” Will Hoeven and Cramer go back to the drawing board and find bipartisan solutions that protect older North Dakotans?

And the American Medical Association – the largest association of physicians in the United States – says the current legislation “violates” the Do No Harm oath taken by doctors “on many levels.” Will Hoeven and Cramer go back to the drawing board and find bipartisan solutions that ensure no harm is done to our families and loved ones?

As a former legislator who worked on expanding health care access in our state, I have heard countless stories and pleas from families who want to see real change in our health care system. As an attorney who represents clients whose health would be drastically impacted by the proposed changes – and more personally, as a guardian to a young woman who relies on Medicaid – I know these deep cuts to Medicaid and other services aren’t just about quality of life. They are truly about life itself. We cannot sit back and allow Congress to destroy the health coverage our most vulnerable citizens rely on.

As our federal delegation returns to Washington, D.C., following the July 4th recess, the question is: Will Cramer and Hoeven continue to play politics, or will they listen to the voices of North Dakotans, go back to the drawing board, and seek bipartisan solutions that truly improve our health care system? Will they work to increase access to care and lower costs? Or, will they once again fall in line with their party leaders and pass a bill that rips health coverage away from tens of thousands of North Dakotans? It is not just about saying “No” to bad legislation. It is about working together to find a better way.

Oversen is the chair of the N.D. Democratic-NPL Party.

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