Neal Opening Statement at Hearing on Protecting Americans with Pre-Existing Conditions
Washington, DC, January 29, 2019
(As prepared for delivery)
Thank you to everyone for being here today for the Ways and Means Committee’s first policy hearing in the 116th Congress. And warm welcome to new members of the committee on both sides of the aisle. I am honored to be the 67th Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. I take this position, and the history and prestige of this committee, very seriously. I look forward to considering policies that will have a positive impact on the future of our nation and on all American families.
Today we will discuss an issue that affects nearly every American family – preexisting conditions and their impact on health care coverage.
Over 130 million Americans have a pre-existing condition and protecting them goes to the core of safeguarding heath care for all Americans. What insurance companies consider to be pre-existing conditions can be anything from asthma, to cancer, to even pregnancy.
Before the Affordable Care Act – which is the current law of the land –Americans faced significant hardship when trying to purchase adequate health care coverage. Insurance companies could refuse coverage altogether, charge excessive fees, place dollar limits on the amount of care Americans receive. Insurers could even discriminate against patients with even common health care issues such as diabetes or high blood pressure. But when the ACA became law, new safeguards went into place that put a stop to these practices. Our health care system’s protections really matter for American families’ peace of mind, and for their pocket books.
But my colleagues across the aisle have a different view. Despite their repeated claims to support protections for people with pre-existing conditions, their actions directly contradict those statements. They’re leading ongoing efforts to undermine or eliminate the current law’s protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions. This is the wrong course of action.
Between the Trump Administration’s efforts to chip away at the law and the 18 Republican Attorneys’ General who are actively trying to sabotage the law through the courts, pre-existing condition protections are on tenuous ground. As one of the first actions in the 116th Congress, my colleagues and I moved to intervene in the GOP lawsuit and defend our current law’s pre-existing condition safeguards. I am pleased to join Massachusetts and other Democratic Attorneys’ General who are defending consumers and fighting for Americans with pre-existing conditions.
Let me be clear, the ongoing sabotage of our health care system is having a direct impact on the finances of Americans across this country and is creating uncertainty for one-fifth of the U.S. economy. Four million Americans have lost health insurance coverage since President Trump took office. That's 4 million Americans who previously had insurance and now must pay their medical costs fully out of pocket or delay needed medical care. And earlier this month, the Administration acted to reduce the tax credits by $900 million while raising the out-of-pocket maximums by an additional $400 per family.
I want to take a minute to share a story about one of my constituents who has been personally impacted by preexisting condition protection. Michael Finn is 48 years old and a state representative from West Springfield. He was diagnosed with Type II diabetes two years ago when he was 46 and was borderline diabetic for at least ten years but his condition went undiagnosed. Mike is married with three kids under the age of 10 and grateful to the ACA for allowing him to keep receiving treatment, medication, and care even though he has this preexisting condition. His wife is a stay-at-home mother, and Mike is the sole breadwinner in the household. If he were unable to work or unable to receive insurance assistance to help cover his healthcare costs, Mike doesn't know what he would do.
We need to embrace policies that protect people like Mike. The law is currently clear, but there is opportunity to build upon it and stop the ongoing sabotage. I have seen in Massachusetts that we can work together across party lines to make sure Americans have coverage and to protect families from financial ruin. We need more of that in Congress, and I hope this hearing will be the beginning of that process.
I am pleased our witnesses could join us today to share their personal experiences and thoughts on how protections for people with pre-existing conditions are essential. Our witnesses know that these safeguards can be the difference between getting needed medical assistance and forgoing necessary treatment – or the difference between accessing affordable care and losing a lifetime of savings just to stay alive. These protections mean the world to people – and they’re the law of the land. I’m glad we’ll be discussing them today.
And with that I will turn to Ranking Member Brady for his opening statement.