I recently got a letter from Kathryn, a Spring Grove, Ill., mother who is doing her best to keep her family of three afloat. She and her family have gone without health insurance in recent years because they could not afford the premiums, yet make too much to qualify for the Affordable Care Act tax credit that reduces out-of-pocket premium prices. Her husband’s addiction treatment calls for inpatient rehab — a necessity they cannot afford even with insurance.
I tell you about Kathryn not because her story is unique but because it is far too common. There are millions of Americans such as Kathryn, agonizing over bills, trying to make do without health insurance, wondering if they will ever get ahead.
I learned early on in my career as a registered nurse that health care is make or break for many families. And as part of the Department of Health and Human Services team charged with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, I also learned that the ACA needed both improvements and protections. That became my reason for running for office when my predecessor was unwilling to protect me, a constituent with a preexisting condition, from getting my health care ripped away.
But the road to building on the ACA was long: President Barack Obama called for enhancements to the legislation even before he signed it into law. Republicans spent a decade sabotaging the law and trying to repeal it. Last year, House Democrats passed a measure to make plans more affordable, and it died in Mitch McConnell’s graveyard. Finally, this year, Democrats made an essential improvement that makes care more affordable to Americans of all incomes.
Tucked inside the stimulus bill, the Health Care Affordability Act lowers out-of-pocket insurance costs in a variety of ways. The Biden administration estimates that 4 out of 5 enrollees will be able to find a plan for $10 or less per month per person. People with the lowest incomes and those who receive unemployment compensation this year may not have to pay a monthly premium at all. The law also caps premiums for plans purchased through the health insurance marketplace at 8.5 percent of household income, meaning families such as Kathryn’s will no longer have to choose between taking a job and losing affordable coverage.
Those whose earnings are above 400 percent of the federal poverty level, about $106,000 for a family of four, will now be eligible to receive tax credits to purchase affordable health-care coverage. A family of four making $90,000 will see premiums decrease by $200 per month, and an individual making $19,000 will not have to pay a monthly premium.
These are real, significant savings that will help families pay their rents or their mortgages or perhaps put a little away so a child can go to college — investments that will make our communities stronger.
If you are uninsured or paying too much for your insurance, a special enrollment period is underway until Aug. 15. HealthCare.gov began displaying the new, lower prices on Thursday. Anyone currently enrolled in a plan who would like to access the lower premiums right away should visit HealthCare.gov to update their plan. Otherwise, they will recoup those savings when they file their taxes next year.
We didn’t get here without a fight. Republicans have been trying to kill the ACA since its infancy, and would again be at it today if they had control of the Congress. But like all laws, it was not perfect when it was written. With the American Rescue Plan, health care is not only here to stay, but it is higher quality, lower cost, and ready to protect you — during this pandemic and beyond.
The writer, a Democrat, represents Illinois’ 14th Congressional District.