I ran for Congress out of frustration with Washington’s inability to solve problems. Twenty-six years in the military taught me not to walk by a problem. Since taking the oath of office I have focused on tackling some of the toughest problems my constituents and our country face. The recent debate over the future of our health care system makes it clear to me that now is the time to tackle this difficult problem and to act.
For the last several weeks, I have been co-leading a small working group of Republicans and Democrats as part of the Problem Solvers Caucus — 43 members of Congress, nearly evenly split Democrat/Republican — to find common ground on the urgent issue of stabilizing the individual health care market and providing relief to individuals, families, and small businesses. After the Senate failed to move any health care legislation, the Caucus released a plan Monday outlining a potential path ahead. We proposed these ideas because Americans deserve better than the failing health care status quo and a gridlocked Washington. To break through we must be bold, and also practical, to urgently solve this immediate problem.
The facts are that the individual insurance market, where about 7 percent of Americans get their health insurance, is not healthy. Forty percent of the counties in the country will only have one choice next year and many will have no choice at all. Premiums in Arizona went up over 100 percent last year, with 14 of 15 counties having only one choice. Many individuals and families, including those with pre-existing conditions, cannot afford this insurance and others realized the deductibles and copays are too high and networks too small, so the option doesn’t meet their needs. Over 10 million people in the country decided to pay a penalty or get a waiver last year instead of buying health insurance. All the while, many small businesses are hurting from Affordable Care Act mandates by keeping their employer count at 49 or hiring part time workers to avoid the costs and red tape of complying. Others with over 50 employees are limited by not having the option to let their employees shop around for insurance on the individual market.
In 2010, the Democrats passed the most sweeping change to health care in my lifetime without one GOP vote, and for the past few months the GOP was trying to do the exact same thing. Despite sincerely held differences and philosophies on many issues, most major legislation resulting in significant change impacting Americans is usually bipartisan at some level.
To be clear, I think the Affordable Care Act was not the right approach to fix the broken health care system that existed before its passage, and I prefer we have a thoughtful alternative to replace it with a system that actually drives the cost of health care down while providing for choice, innovation, competition, and more state control. But just like when I was in the military, you sometimes have to fight the war you are in, not the one you want to be in. With the clock ticking on insurer decisions for plans and rates for 2018, it is urgent that Congress put aside our differences and find solutions to provide greater stability and relief. We cannot sit by and watch the individual market collapse. We must act.
Co-leading this bipartisan working group has been one of the most meaningful experiences of my time in Congress. The Democrats came in with a list of what they proposed. Republicans had our proposals. We had spirited and rigorous discussions and debates. It was give and take. We had to make a purposeful adjustment of the language that even gets used on this topic. And we ultimately agreed on a list of ideas and potential ways to pay for them. Not everyone got what they wanted. For some, this was a very uncomfortable stance to take due to concerns of how this might be viewed by party leadership or respective “base” voters. For all of us, this was a compromise position—otherwise known as governing.
The temperature is so high in Washington on this topic that we felt our constituents, and the country, are looking for people to step forward to break the fever and start solving the immediate problem in front of us. Our ideas are not a final piece of legislation. They are a starting point to break through the insanity. They will offer some direction to the discussion while the details will get worked out in the committees in each chamber.
I am honored that I was not a bystander but a leader in this effort to show the country there is hope for some bipartisan problem solving out of Congress. I look forward to this catching on.
U.S. Rep. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., represents Congressional District 2.