Co-Op Consumer Protection Act of 2016

Floor Speech

Date: Sept. 27, 2016
Location: Washington, DC


Mr. McDERMOTT. Mr. Speaker, I would like to offer a piece of advice to my Republican colleagues. Be careful what you wish for because you may get it, because, despite this newfound compassion for consumers, if you listen to these crocodile tears flowing out here, you would think they really cared. The truth is Republicans wanted the CO-Ops to fail from the very start. For years, they have systematically undermined the program and made it virtually impossible for CO-Ops across this country to succeed.

Now, let's look exactly at what they did, because that is a pretty hard thing I am saying. Back in 2013, under Republican leadership, Congress slashed the funding for loans and grants to CO-Ops by nearly two-thirds. The President set it at one level and the Republicans said: No, we will give you one-third of it. So they cut it from the very start. That devastated the program during the early days and denied consumers access to dozens of new plan choices in the marketplace.

But they didn't stop there. They were determined they were going to get those CO-Ops. In 2014, the Republicans inserted a rider in the CR/ omnibus bill. This blocked the administration from shifting discretionary funding--discretionary funding--into the ACA's risk corridor program which they disingenuously--the Republicans--called an insurance company bailout. The truth is that this rider was a deliberate effort to destabilize CO-Ops which were taking on new populations under the ACA. It isn't only the CO-Ops, but it is also the small insurers.

It cut risk corridor payments to one-eighth. The President put in a dollar, the Republicans put in 12 cents, and that devastated CO-Ops. It created unpredictability, and small insurers have also got their problems and are now raising rates. With the deck stacked against them, it is no wonder that so many fledgling CO-Ops struggled. They were a victim of a partisan political attack that they simply couldn't withstand. They didn't have the money.

Now, my Republican colleagues didn't do this out of ignorance. They did it out of malice because they knew the importance of risk mitigation. They knew exactly what they were doing. In fact, when they wanted to make their own insurance program work--put in a few years before called part D of Medicare--the Republicans
embraced risk management with open arms. In 2003, when President Bush's Medicare part D bill incorporated risk management measures, they were nearly identical--nearly identical--to the ones in the ACA.
But unlike the ACA, they funded those measures very generously. In fact, as the part D market--the drug market--fully stabilized, many experts have been saying that the risk management measures could now be scaled back or revised. Yet, once the Republicans give money to somebody, they continue to fund it generously, funneling millions-- billions, actually--into part D plan sponsors even if they don't need it. They are giving it to the drug companies. But they wouldn't give it to the CO-Ops. The drug companies they love, but the CO-Ops they hated, so they took it away.

Now, talk about an insurance company bailout. Of course, the Affordable Care Act hasn't received the same treatment. Instead, we are prepared today to vote again to undermine the law weakening the individual mandate with yet another carve-out. Republicans somehow believe you can put together a healthcare system and only take in the sick, I guess. You can't have an individual mandate that everybody has to be a part of it.
So this bill raises many questions, but we never even had a hearing on it. They didn't want anybody to come in and testify about what this bill was going to do or what it might do or what it has done or what it will do. They simply rammed it through the Ways and Means Committee.

One member wanted it, and one member had one story from one place in this country and said this is a bill we need.

We don't actually know how many people might have paid the individual mandate because they didn't enroll in coverage following the midyear CO-OP collapse, but we do know one thing: this bill will weaken the individual mandate.

It seems like a small change, and I admit it is a small change, but if you go down this road--the Chinese say death by 1,000 cuts. This is the first cut or the second cut or whichever one you want. They are threatening the sustainability of the entire health insurance industry.

We know this because, in Washington State, we have seen it.

When you try to provide universal coverage but don't have a mandate, the system simply doesn't work. We tried it in Washington State in 1993. We had an individual mandate and everybody had to have insurance and so forth, and then the Republicans in Washington State decided let's take out the individual mandate. The result was a disaster.

Healthy people couldn't get covered, and premiums spiked out of control, creating a death spiral that devastated the individual insurance market.

By 1999, not one single insurer in the United States of America was selling individual policies in the State of Washington because of taking away that individual mandate. This was a catastrophe for everyone: doctors, hospitals, insurers, and most importantly for consumers like the person that we heard the story about that we all feel it is too bad it happened. But they created it. They created the facts that made it happen.

So when my Republican colleagues put forward a bill to weaken the mandate under the guise of helping consumers, I have a hard time believing it because their record is clear. After more than 60 votes to deny Americans health coverage--they tried to repeal ObamaCare over and over and over and over and so on--years of systematic sabotage of the CO-Ops and today's crocodile tears about the plight of CO-OP consumers, it is downright impossible to take them seriously. The Members in this body should vote ``no.''