In the midst of caucus politics and the president’s active Twitter feed, Congresswoman Cindy Axne and her fellow House Democrats continue to push for a more equitable health care system in the United States.
Since 64 new Democratic representatives took office in January, health care legislation has been some of the most prolific introduced in the House.
“The last couple of years, [health care] was in every poll and also anecdotally in almost every conversation that you’d have with people about what they wanted the next Congress to do and how policies can impact our lives,” said Matt Sinovic, executive director of Progress Iowa, during a recent press call with Axne. “Health care was No. 1 by far.”
Axne, who in 2018 unseated a two-term Republican in Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District, is among the new members leading the fight for affordable and comprehensive care.
“We’ve got people suffering across our district and across our state who just can’t keep up with the rising costs of prescription drugs and the ability to find good health care in their area,” said Axne, referencing a woman in Fremont County who told the congresswoman she pays $700 per month for insulin.
In May, the House passed H.R. 986, the “Protecting Americans with Preexisting Conditions Act” and H.R. 987, the “Strengthening Healthcare and Lowering Prescription Drug Cost Act.”
Included in the legislation, Axne said, is $100 million for education, outreach and assistance to help Americans find the health care plan best suited to their needs and restores $200 million for states to put toward improving their insurance markets. To lower prescription drug costs, the bill prohibits drug companies from “purposely delaying cheaper drugs from getting to the market,” Axne said.
The New York Times recently reported on an example of drug companies’ market manipulation, in which the sole manufacturer of an H.I.V. prevention pill keeps its price fixed at $20,000, even though the drug costs $10 to produce.
Iowa’s two other Democratic representatives, Dave Loebsack and Abby Finkenauer, voted in favor of the bills, while Republican Rep. Steve King voted no.
The bills haven’t been taken up by Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell’s conservative chamber.
“When we talk to people, we find that health care is the top issue,” said Sue Dinsdale, director of Iowa Citizen Action Network, a longtime progressive advocacy group in the state. “They are resoundingly rejecting the Republicans’ approach. We know that they’re not going to stop attempting to undermine our health care system, even though their sabotage has resulted in millions of Americans losing their coverage.”
Axne named 10 specific bills Democrats have passed or are working on to improve the U.S. health care system and protect former president Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
“We will continue to monitor, push back and do anything we can through policy and legally to ensure that across this country no one strikes down any provisions within the Affordable Care Act,” the congresswoman said.
In a recent editorial, Illinois Rep. Cheri Bustos, chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, highlighted the bills House Democrats have prioritized to lower the cost of prescription drugs; “crack down on junk insurance plans;” and enroll Americans in affordable health care plans.
“With our House majority, we’re working tirelessly to bring down the cost of health care,” Bustos said. “It may not get the headlines in today’s chaotic political environment, but so far this year, we’ve held dozens of hearings on health care and prescription drug prices.”
So-called “junk plans” — insurance coverage with few benefits that don’t fit ACA standards — made news in Iowa last year when the Republican-controlled Legislature approved the Iowa Farm Bureau’s effort to sell “health benefit plans” that skirt the federal requirements for traditional insurance providers.
Marketed as a lower-cost option, the Farm Bureau admitted some applicants with pre-existing medical conditions could be turned down for care, the Des Moines Register reported.
Proponents of the plan argue it is an alternative option for Iowans who do not have employer-provided insurance and do not qualify for ACA subsidies.
In her editorial, Bustos said the “junk plans” encouraged by Republicans “discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions and do not cover essential benefits.”
In addition to ACA-related legislation, House Democrats also introduced seemingly bipartisan legislation that has been ignored by the Republican-controlled Senate.
Bills like the “Mental Health Access Improvement Act,” “Ensuring Lasting Smiles Act,” “ALS Disability Insurance Access Act” and “Removing Barriers to Colorectal Cancer Screening Act” all were introduced in the House and Senate, but have yet to be debated.
Axne said she worked with Republican Sen. Joni Ernst on the “Ensuring Lasting Smiles Act,” but feared Majority Leader McConnell would reject any chance to collaborate with members of the Democratic Party.
“The sad part is that leadership within the Senate is not bringing these pieces to the floor,” Axne said. “We’re continuing to push as much as we possibly can to make that happen.”
By Elizabeth Meyer
Photo by Julie Fleming