Obamacare premiums rose 20 percent for South Dakotans this year, and I continue to hear stories of fewer health care options and out-of-control health care costs as a result of the ill-advised Affordable Care Act. While repealing Obamacare and replacing it with a consumer-driven, truly affordable system remains a top priority for me, we continue to take meaningful steps to provide Americans relief from this law.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act helped relieve Americans from Obamacare, by including provisions to delay the Medical Device Tax and the Cadillac Tax for two years and by delaying the excise tax on health insurance plans for one year. Importantly, this legislation also repealed Obamacare’s individual mandate, so that nobody will be forced to pay a tax penalty if they don’t want to purchase health care coverage that they don’t want or need. The individual mandate was an unpopular tax in an unpopular law that disproportionately hurt low-income families. We’re glad to see it go away. We were also able to successfully repeal Obamacare’s Independent Payment Advisory Board, which is a special panel of unelected bureaucrats tasked with finding savings in Medicare by rationing health services for seniors.
The Trump administration has also taken steps to give states more flexibility in administering federal mandatory spending programs. Most recently, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced it will give states more flexibility regarding work requirements for certain Medicaid beneficiaries. This will allow governors and state government leaders to shape state Medicaid policies that work best for their state rather than following rules issued by Washington bureaucrats. Already, nine states have applied for work requirement waivers to implement these new flexibilities and two waivers have been approved, including South Dakota’s.
President Lyndon B. Johnson created Medicaid in 1965 as part of his War on Poverty. The intent of the program was to provide health services for low-income children, seniors in need, individuals with disabilities and pregnant mothers. It was designed to be a pathway out of poverty.
As Americans, we take care of the most vulnerable in our society—the very young, the very old and those who cannot take care of themselves. The Affordable Care Act opened up Medicaid to include healthy, able-bodied, working-age men and women, which has added to the high cost of the program. In 2015, an estimated 70 million people were enrolled in Medicaid. That is 21 percent of our entire population!
Medicaid and other mandatory spending programs like Medicare and Social Security are on an unsustainable path. In the long-term, Congress needs to reform the federal budget process so that it can exercise greater control over the sustainability of mandatory spending. In the short-term, giving states the flexibility to manage Medicaid in new, innovative ways will help make Medicaid more manageable.
These are important steps toward our goal of eliminating the unpopular aspects of Obamacare, but the fact remains that premiums are still too high, insurance companies are leaving the marketplace and millions of Americans have been forced off plans they liked. I will continue to work with my colleagues to relieve hardworking families from Obamacare’s perils as we seek to make health care truly affordable and accessible for all Americans.