By Janet Howell, Scott Surovell and Alfonso Lopez
Almost every day, we see national and local headlines that include some iteration of the words “debate over health care.” And while there are plenty of complexities to discuss, Democrats in the Virginia General Assembly hold a core belief that is not up for debate: Access to health care is critically important to Virginians’ quality of life and livelihoods and to our economy.
No Virginians should have to worry about how they will pay for life-saving medications, whether their emergency medical bills will bankrupt them or whether their condition is “serious” enough to warrant a visit to the doctor. Unfortunately, we are still fighting for Virginians’ access to coverage as Republicans at the national and state level attempt to undermine the Affordable Care Act.
Even before Medicaid expansion, the Affordable Care Act provided Virginians with much-needed relief, ensuring comprehensive essential health benefits, protections for pre-existing conditions and more affordable options. Still, some 800,000 Virginians lacked access to coverage. And while our governors and Virginia Democrats have pushed to expand Medicaid under the ACA every year since 2013, we were continually blocked by the Republican majorities in the General Assembly. Finally, after Democrats flipped 15 Republican-held seats in the House in 2017, we worked out a compromise with our Republican colleagues, and we took one of the most consequential votes of our lifetimes: expanding Medicaid to hundreds of thousands of Virginians.
Yet, despite our historic success last year, the Trump administration and Virginia Republicans are continuing their assault on Virginians’ access to affordable, quality care. During this year’s assembly session, Republicans pushed through legislation to create health plans that would allow insurers to:
- Charge higher premiums based on gender;
- Exclude coverage of the essential health benefits required under the ACA, including prescription drugs, maternity, mental health and addiction treatment services; and
- Offer family plans that would only cover up to three primary care visits a year, until a $15,800 deductible is paid.
Not only would the Republicans’ so-called “short-term limited duration plans” and “catastrophic health plans” strip the comprehensive coverage required by the ACA, but they would remove young, healthy people from the marketplace — increasing the cost of premiums for everyone else.
And just recently, President Trump announced that he wanted to see the entire ACA struck down — including the provisions that ensure coverage for individuals with pre-existing conditions, allow young adults to stay on their parents’ plans until age 26 and provide access to contraception at no cost. Republican attacks on the ACA threaten access to coverage for hundreds of thousands of Virginians and would nullify the Medicaid expansion that Virginia Democrats fought so hard for — and that many Republicans in the House of Delegates and Senate eventually voted for. Yet, Virginia Republicans have chosen to be silent rather than oppose the Trump administration.
Fortunately, at the state level, our Democratic governor has rejected the General Assembly Republicans’ attempts to strip access to health coverage and allow insurance companies to charge Virginians higher premiums and deductibles. As Democratic legislative whips in the General Assembly, we promise to uphold the governor’s decision to protect access to affordable, quality care. And at the federal level, our attorney general is fighting the Trump administration’s attempts to strike down the Affordable Care Act.
In the “debate over health care,” Virginia Democrats continue to fight for access to affordable, quality and comprehensive coverage — no gimmicks.
Janet Howell serves as Democratic co-whip in the Senate of Virginia and represents the 32nd District. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Scott Surovell serves as Democratic co-whip in the Senate of Virginia and represents the 36th District. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Alfonso Lopez serves as Democratic co-whip in the Virginia House of Delegates and represents the 49th District. He can be reached at DelALopez@house.virginia.gov