Lauren Underwood Builds A Bad-Ass Healthcare Bridge To Medicare For All
Lauren Underwood is one of our favorite new congressional bad asses. The youngest black woman -- ever -- to serve in the House, the former registered nurse flipped a seat in Illinois's solidly Republican 14th district. You might also remember Underwood from the time she grilled former DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen about her child torture hobby. Underwood campaigned on protecting the Affordable Care Act, and she's still dancing with the issue that brought her to Congress. Most of her freshman class has signed onto Medicare For All, and while Underwood supports universal coverage, she wants to strengthen the ACA until we get there.
Underwood recently introduced HR 1868, the Health Care Affordability Act. It's part of a bundle of health care legislation from House Democrats that's intended to "shore up and expand" the ACA. Her co-sponsors are House representatives Jimmy Gomez from California and Tom O'Halleran from Arizona. HR 1868 qualifies more Americans to receive tax credits, expands eligibility for premium tax credits, and lowers premiums.
It's important to recognize that ACA Part Deux isn't an alternative to Medicare For All or single payer or any other universal coverage program. Rather, it serves as a vital short-term solution. Health care analyst Charles Gaba explained on Twitter that Underwood's bill could be implemented almost immediately. Both Medicare for All and Medicare for America, which Beto O'Rourke supports, will take some time to ramp up. HR 1868 will fill the gap.
Underwood is playing a key role here in the future success of any universal coverage program. Republicans have attempted to sabotage the Affordable Care Act at both the state and federal levels, both before and after Donald Trump took office. They're guaranteed to play the same obstructive games with whatever Democrats try to do. Smoothing out the bumps in the road as Americans transition to a better system is good for the public. It also denies Republicans the ability to use frustrated sick people as political hostages.
Americans still struggle with health care costs, and rising ACA premiums are a serious concern. Underwood's bill will save people from what conservatives consider the "freedom" to die from a treatable illness or go bankrupt fighting it.
The great news that If you earn between 100-400% of the Federal Poverty Line, you'll see a savings of roughly $1,100 a year. Underwood's bill would also save folk from the so-called "subsidy cliff." This is where a 50 year old who earns just a dollar more than the $49,960 cut-off receives no federal assistance at all. This has led people in this situation to drop ACA plans or buy "Sanford & Son" brand junk insurance. Fewer people on the exchanges is bad all around. But HR 1868 would drastically reduce the annual premiums for a single 50 year old earning between $50,000 to $87,000. They'd enjoy a savings of almost $3,000 a year.
Some poor souls are coughing up more than 20 percent of their income on insurance plans. HR 1868 would ensure that no one has to pay more than 8.5 percent. A 60 year old making $50,000 a year would see their monthly premiums drop from $898 a month (more than rent in non-Seattle cities) to $354 a month. You always feel healthier when your insurance plans are affordable enough to let you eat every once in a while.
Republicans will insist this will break the bank, and they'll be lying as usual. Yes, the estimated net cost is between $6 and $18 billion with a "B." But that's actually not as bad as you might think considering the individual savings. Surely, reducing the cost of health care for everyone will serve the same "job-creating" and "economy-stimulating" benefits as cutting taxes for Betsy DeVos's yacht club.
Underwood says her plan would allow almost 20 million more Americans to actually buy and use health insurance. She's confident her bill can pass the House and has a "strong chance of consideration" in the Mitch McConnell-infested Senate. She's probably dreaming with that last part, but it's a dream we can get behind. Now go donate to Underwood right now, even if you've only seen Chicago while watching Ferris Bueller's Day Off. She's a whip-smart fighter and we need her in Congress for a good long while.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle.