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Pallone Floor Remarks on Protecting Americans with Pre-Existing Conditions Act

May 9, 2019
Press Release

Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) delivered the following remarks on the House Floor during consideration of H.R. 986, Protecting Americans with Pre-Existing Conditions Act:

Mr. Chairman, I rise to speak in favor of H.R. 986, the Protecting Americans with Pre-Existing Conditions Act, introduced by Representative Kuster. 

This legislation should not be necessary, but unfortunately the Trump Administration continues to take actions that undermine the health care of millions of Americans, including the more than 133 million people with pre-existing conditions. 

Today we are here because of the Trump Administration’s proposed guidance last October that would allow states to expand and prop up short term junk insurance plans, even providing taxpayer subsidies for these plans.  In order to take this action, the Administration blatantly ignored the plain text of the Affordable Care Act and gutted standards that states must meet in order to test insurance reforms.  I believe the Administration’s action is illegal, but sadly this Administration has never let the law get in the way of its goals. 

These efforts will without a doubt seriously undermine the health coverage of Americans with pre-existing conditions. 

A coalition of 24 national groups representing millions of Americans with pre-existing conditions, including the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association, wrote a letter in strong support of H.R. 986 stating, “the 1332 guidance substantially erodes the guardrails governing coverage that people with pre-existing conditions such as cystic fibrosis, lung disease, cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, rare disorders, pregnant women, and many others rely on in the individual marketplace.” The patient organizations go on to say that “these changes fundamentally alter the nature of the Section 1332 waiver program and jeopardize adequate, affordable coverage for people with pre-existing conditions in the individual market.  Halting the implementation of this guidance will protect people with pre-existing conditions.”

By encouraging states to promote and expand short-term insurance plans, the Administration is giving insurers the green light to directly discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions.  It’s giving the green light for these plans to charge people with pre-existing conditions more money.  And it’s giving these plans the green light to refuse to cover any treatment that is related to someone’s pre-existing condition.  The expansion of these junk plans will also undermine the insurance market, leading to higher premiums for people with pre-existing conditions who need comprehensive coverage. 

This is not the way you protect people with pre-existing conditions.

The Trump Administration’s guidance also undermines the ACA’s promise of coverage of essential health benefits.  The American people should not have to worry about whether their insurance plan covers prescription drugs, maternity and newborn care, mental health and substance use disorder services.

And this guidance is also bad news for older Americans who could be charged a lot more for their insurance than what is allowed by the ACA. 

In a nutshell, this guidance is bad news for any American who wants access to quality and affordable health coverage that is there for them when they need it.  Junk plans are just that – junk.  People shouldn’t have to read the fine print to see what is and is not covered, and that’s the hallmark of the ACA.   

That is why we must rescind this guidance.  I want to commend my colleague Ms. Kuster for her great work on this important bill.

I do want to emphasize that H.R. 986 would not do anything to interfere with existing 1332 reinsurance waivers, which have bipartisan support and began under the Obama administration.  My Republican colleagues continue to intentionally conflate these reinsurance waivers with the Trump Administration’s new 1332 waiver guidance from October of 2018.  H.R. 986 does not affect these waivers.  I am disappointed that my Republican colleagues continue to make these arguments, but the bad faith is not surprising given their terrible record on protecting people with pre-existing conditions.

This bill is necessary because of the ongoing assault by the Trump Administration on our health care system. 

I urge all my colleagues to join me in standing up for people with pre-existing conditions and standing up for people who want access to affordable and quality health care.  

I reserve the balance of my time.