By Sam Berger
After voting to strip 58,000 of his constituents of their health care, Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, made a startling admission: he hadn’t even read the bill. He quickly backtracked, saying that he understood the legislation “in its entirety.”
Given that he appeared unaware that repealing the Affordable Care Act would have devastating effects on New York’s Essential Health Plan, which provides health care to hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers, it seems clear he did not understand the many devils contained in the bill’s details.
But make no mistake, when it comes to the overall effect of this legislation, which strips millions of people of their health insurance to provide tax cuts to the wealthy few, he understands exactly what the bill does – he just doesn’t care.
While attention has been focused on the last-minute amendments House Republicans proposed in an effort to win passage of the bill, important aspects of the legislation, and its effects, have remained largely unchanged for weeks.
The bill would cut roughly a trillion dollars that helps provide people with health care in order to fund hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks for the wealthy. Its effects on the insurance market would be catastrophic, causing widespread loss of coverage and immediate premium increases of 15 to 20 percent. In addition, Medicaid would face more than $800 billion in draconian cuts, hurting the elderly, disabled and children. These parts of the bill have remained unchanged since the House’s first failed efforts to pass this legislation over a month ago.
However, amendments in the past two weeks have managed to make this terrible bill even worse. Last-minute changes put at risk protections for people with pre-existing conditions, over 300,000 of whom live in Collins’ district, which could cause costs for those without employer-provided care to skyrocket.
Those with asthma would see a $4,000 surcharge; people with an uncomplicated pregnancy would face a $17,000 surcharge; and those with metastatic cancer would face a surcharge of over $140,000. Other changes to the bill could result in insurers selling substandard plans that do not cover things like prescription drugs or mental health services. And the 150 million people with employer-provided coverage would be at risk of a return of annual and lifetime limits that stop their coverage when they need it most.
While Collins may not have understood all the gory details, he certainly knew the end result – a tax cut for people like him, and loss of coverage and skyrocketing costs for millions of people struggling to make ends meet. Maybe that’s why he voted to exempt Congress from its effects.
He might not care that this bill will hurt Western New Yorkers, but it’s up to the rest of us to make sure he knows that we do.
Sam Berger, an Amherst native, is the senior policy adviser at the Center for American Progress and previously served as a senior health policy adviser for the White House Domestic Policy Council during the Obama administration.