WASHINGTON, D.C.—The U.S. House of Representatives will consider landmark legislation today that would expand access to affordable health care coverage to millions of Americans through a combination of making low-cost marketplace health plans available to low-income people in states that have yet to expand Medicaid, permanently increasing federal funding for Medicaid in the U.S. Territories, and extending increased subsidies for individuals to buy marketplace coverage nationwide. The bill caps Medicare enrollees’ out-of-pocket drug costs and allows patients to spread out their co-payments throughout the year rather than face a large upfront cost. It provides four weeks of paid family and medical leave to American workers for the first time, and it taxes nicotine products, including e-cigarettes, at the same rate as cigarettes for the first time at the federal level.
A statement from Lisa Lacasse, president of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) follows:
“The bill before Congress right now represents one of the most transformative opportunities to expand health care coverage to millions of Americans in more than a decade. Closing the Medicaid coverage gap is a major achievement in the effort to reduce suffering and deaths from cancer and address the nation’s significant health disparities in preventing, diagnosing, and treating this disease. For the more than two million Americans who currently fall into the Medicaid coverage gap, having access to comprehensive affordable health coverage will greatly improve their ability to survive cancer should they be diagnosed or prevent it through improved access to affordable care and timely screenings.
“ACS CAN has been dedicated to getting the people in these states the health coverage they need, and this bill finally extends a comprehensive coverage option so that where someone lives won’t determine if they live. Because this fix to the Medicaid coverage gap is temporary, we will continue our efforts encouraging states to take advantage of additional incentives to fully expand Medicaid so that they can benefit from increased federal funding and their residents can obtain a permanent source of health coverage. Additionally, providing more federal funding to Medicaid programs in the U.S. Territories will help get essential coverage to even more Americans who need it in these communities.
“Additionally, extending the increased subsidies for middle income Americans to purchase coverage on the exchange will also help ensure continued progress in our efforts against cancer by reducing cost burdens in accessing care. Millions of Americans have seen their monthly premiums significantly decline, including many whose premiums are now zero. Ensuring these marketplace health plans stay affordable through increased subsidies is a great step toward ensuring more people can get and keep the coverage they need.
“For those enrolled in Medicare the financial burden of unlimited cost sharing for prescription drugs can be significant. Establishing a $2,000 annual cap for outpatient prescription drug costs and enabling enrollees the option to space out co-pays throughout the year rather than pay them all upfront, would allow patients to plan for their expenses and provide some financial relief for a population often on fixed incomes.
“While affordable health care coverage is one of the most important ways to reduce suffering from cancer, it is not the only priority for patients and their families. Having access to paid medical and family leave is also critical. Patients and their families should not have to choose between getting the care they need and keeping their jobs or paying their bills, which is why the proposed four weeks of paid family and medical leave included in the bill is such an important first step and welcome component to this legislation.
“Also, taxing nicotine at the same rate as cigarettes at the federal level will make e-cigarettes less affordable and therefore less appealing to youth. This is an important step toward curbing the youth e-cigarette epidemic. However, in order to discourage youth switching from one addictive and dangerous tobacco product to another, we continue to urge Congress to go further and tax all tobacco products at the same level.
“On behalf of the more than 1.9 million Americans diagnosed with cancer this year and their families, we urge the House to pass this legislation and for Congress to expand access to comprehensive, affordable health care as quickly as possible.”