Growing up in a home with a liberal mother and conservative father, I learned at a young age that two people can vigorously disagree without being disagreeable.
Regrettably, the debate surrounding the American Health Care Act — and most every other political or public policy issue today — makes me worry that our ability as fellow Americans to talk with one another, listen to one another, and engage in civil and substantive discourse with one another is at risk of disappearing.
Case in point: In just the last month, I have been accused of not caring about people with cancer (despite both my birth mother and the mother who raised me dying from it); of ignoring the needs of children with disabilities (despite losing my oldest daughter at age 11 due to severe disabilities); of being unsympathetic to rape victims; and even of being a murderer. All this vitriol because I dared to take the lead in trying to save a broken health-care system.
That kind of outrageous rhetoric and inability of people to communicate arguably threatens the future of our democracy more than any debate over a single issue.
This disturbing trend was also on display during my recent town-hall meeting. While others chose to forgo them, it was important for me to address my constituents face-to-face and listen to their concerns. I knew that emotions would be running high and that many are scared about how potential changes to health care might affect them.
The truth is, however, that they should be more scared about Congress doing nothing. The individual health-insurance market is failing. If we don’t take steps to fix it, millions will be hurt, including those who currently benefit from Obamacare. The signs of imminent collapse are everywhere: soaring premiums, sky-high deductibles, withdrawing insurers, and evaporating choices.
It is my sincere conviction that the AHCA, including my amendment, can save health care before it implodes. Despite a tremendous amount of misinformation from special interests and an extreme lack of balanced reporting by some in the media, here are the facts about the AHCA and the MacArthur Amendment:
It protects people with pre-existing conditions by requiring insurance companies to sell and renew plans for everyone, regardless of health status. Furthermore, it will bring down insurance costs for everyone else — which is not occurring under Obamacare.
It prohibits insurance companies from charging individuals with pre-existing conditions more, so long as they maintain continuous insurance, including individuals who move from one job or insurance plan to another.
It establishes a federal risk pool to help cover the costs of people in the individual insurance market with pre-existing conditions, and provides $138 billion for the federal and state pools. Even if states request a waiver from some mandates, they cannot do so unless they participate in these risk pools.
Lastly, let me address the Congressional Budget Office report suggesting that the AHCA could cause 23 million people to lose their insurance. The CBO misleadingly counts people who could choose to forgo insurance when Obamacare’s financial penalty is lifted. That’s not “losing” insurance; it’s choosing not to have it. Big difference.
While I respect the CBO’s role, I’ll put my 30 years of experience in the insurance market up against a handful of Washington bureaucrats any day of the week. This is the same CBO that predicted Obamacare would cover 22 million people by 2016 when the real number turned out to be just 10 million.
Moreover, the AHCA does not “cut” Medicaid, but rather shifts some responsibility to the states, which collectively pay less than a third of Medicaid costs today. Our federal government is running consistent budget deficits and our national debt is approaching $20 trillion. We cannot continue to spend money we don’t have.
In closing, I did not run for Congress to decorate a chair. I ran to solve big problems. My district has the rare distinction of voting for Barack Obama in 2012 and Donald Trump in 2016. That means for every person who disagrees with me on an issue, there is someone else who agrees with me completely. My job is to represent them both to the best of my ability, and that’s what I will continue to do.
Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-N.J., represents New Jersey’sThird Congressional District. Readers may write him on Twitter @RepTomMacArthur. He wrote this for The Philadelphia Inquirer.