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Heitkamp: It’s past time for Congress to work together on healthcare

By Staff | Aug 11, 2017

Far too often in Congress, politics dictates legislation, and it needs to stop.

The U.S. Senate recently voted on a health care bill that would have been bad for North Dakota. That’s why I voted against it. It would have ripped away health coverage from more than 34,000 North Dakotans, raised premiums by an average of $794 per year, and left North Dakota hospitals with $31 million in uncompensated costs – all by 2026. I’ve heard from countless North Dakota parents of children with disabilities, seniors in nursing homes, and those in rural communities who rely on rural hospitals. Under the Republican bill, their health care was in jeopardy and they were scared.

On top of that, the bill was crafted in secret by a few select senators. It never received Senate hearings or much debate. And hundreds of organizations opposed the bill, including AARP, the North Dakota Medical Association, and the North Dakota Hospital Association.

Many hoped this bill would pass for political reasons. Instead it failed for the right reason – because it would have hurt our neighbors and communities.

In North Dakota, we know how to work with those who we don’t always agree with. For me, compromise isn’t a bad word. Perhaps the failure to pass this bill is a long overdue wake up call to those on both sides of the aisle that to accomplish results, members of Congress truly need to work together and put partisan politics aside.

As a country, we must have an honest, transparent conversation about health care that brings in ideas from all sides. It’s a conversation I’ve been trying to have for several years. How do we protect and strengthen rural health care? How do we address the growing cost of care? How do we improve care for those with chronic diseases? And how do we reduce health disparities in Native American communities? All of these questions should be on the table.

After the Republican health care bill failed to pass, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell finally asked to see Democrats’ ideas to improve health care. I have many.

One of the first things I did when I joined the Senate in 2013 was create my health care advisory board, comprised of health care leaders and patient advocates across North Dakota, which I meet with regularly to talk about health care in the state and improving the health reform law. These meetings and our ongoing dialogue have been incredibly informative.

In early 2014, I worked with five other senators to introduce a series of commonsense bills to make the health reform law work better for families and small businesses. Those proposals would give consumers more choices, help make coverage more affordable, improve flexibility and relief for workers and small businesses, andmake it easier to get quality health coverage.

Two bipartisan bills I introduced or cosponsored, which became law, give small businesses flexibility so they aren’t burdened by the current law, while also making health coverage more affordable and accessible for employees. These are two of the only bipartisan bills that became law which are actually making needed changes to the current health reform law. I also recently introduced a bill to help middle income families and seniors better afford care.

In the past two months, I supported two commonsense bills toimmediately provide certainty in the health care marketplaces and lower premiums for consumers. Similar provisions were included in the Republican health care bill, reinforcing that these are issues Republicans and Democrats should be able to agree on. Because of actions and uncertainty from the administration and now Congress, consumers could see their premiums jump in 2018, but these bills would help prevent that from happening.

For years I’ve said the health reform law isn’t perfect, no law ever is. But we can make it work better through needed improvements so it’s more affordable and accessible. It needs to be a conversation that all sides are engaged in, which is why I’ve been talking with Republicans and Democrats about next steps. I’m hopeful there is now an opening for bipartisan progress. My office door remains wide open.

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