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In Hearing, Kuster Holds Trump Administration Official Accountable for Efforts to Sabotage Access to Health Care

Rep. Kuster’s full Q&A is available HERE.

Rep. Annie Kuster (NH-02) joined her colleagues on the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight & Investigations to question Seema Verma, the Administrator at the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), about the Trump Administration’s continuing efforts to sabotage our health care system. Specifically, Kuster focused on the Administration’s efforts to undermine the Affordable Care Act’s consumer protections for people with preexisting conditions. In May, the House passed Kuster’s legislation, the Protecting Americans with Preexisting Conditions Act, on a bipartisan basis – this legislation would repeal the Trump Administration’s guidance promoting the sale of junk health plans that don’t cover basic health services. Rep. Kuster’s bill would ensure protections for Americans no matter their health status, which is particularly important in the Granite State, where many have been affected by substance use disorder and the opioid epidemic.

“While we have been working to lower health care costs and improve access to quality care, the Trump Administration continues to try to undermine the Affordable Care Act and take us back to a time when Americans could be charged more or denied coverage because of their medical history,” Rep. Kuster said. “In May, the House passed my legislation to nullify the Trump Administration’s guidance promoting the sale of junk health plans that don’t cover basic health services yet Mitch McConnell has refused to vote on the House’s bills to improve care and protect patients. I will continue working to hold this Administration accountable, and I hope that my Republican colleagues will join us to find solutions to protect their constituents with preexisting conditions and lower health care costs.”

Rep. Kuster’s legislation, the Protecting Americans with Pre-existing Conditions Act (HR 986), which passed the House in May, would revoke Section 1332 guidance released by the Trump Administration’s U.S. Department of Health and Human Services last year, which weakened protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions. Under the Trump Administration’s guidance, states can apply for a waiver that allows them to circumvent essential health benefits, protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions, and use federal funds to subsidize the purchase of junk health plans.

Kuster has focused on working across the aisle to improve the Affordable Care Act. She unveiled proposals to address the cost of health care and stabilize the individual marketplace and has pushed back against partisan efforts to undermine the ACA.

A video of Rep. Kuster’s questioning can be found here, or read below:

CONGRESSWOMAN ANNIE KUSTER: Thank you Ms. Verma for being with us today. Quick yes or no question before we start. I understand yesterday Secretary Azar said that the reason he’s not concerned about the court decision ending the ACA overnight is that he’s relying upon an appeal to the Supreme Court. Is that your position? Is that why you don’t have a plan to tell us today?

CMS ADMINISTRATOR SEEMA VERMA: We have planned for a number of different scenarios.

KUSTER: But are you expecting…

VERMA: I think that what the Secretary is speaking to is that this is going to take some time for the courts to resolve, but we have planned for a variety of different scenarios.

KUSTER: Including an appeal to the Supreme Court?

VERMA: Correct.

KUSTER: I am a little confused today by your testimony and particularly about the testimony of our colleagues. I have been in Congress for seven years. I voted 55 times to not repeal the Affordable Care Act because our colleagues were so persistent about week after week, month after month voting over and over again to repeal the Affordable Care Act in its entirety. And now, this Administration is in court asking to repeal the Affordable Care Act in its entirety and yet you sit here today singing the praises of the Affordable Care Act and how proud you are of your work to bring down the rates, but at the same time you’re cutting access for 400,000 children. That was your testimony this morning.

So I just want to move to a particularly important part for my constituents which is the issue of preexisting conditions. And you’ll recall that before the Affordable Care Act, Americans could be denied their health insurance coverage if they had any kind of a preexisting condition. I think about it in my family, I’ll just start at the beginning of the alphabet – asthma, allergies, Alzheimer’s, cancer, diabetes, the list goes on and on. And in fact, over 50% of Americans have a deniable condition. In New Hampshire, that’s 54% of our citizens have a deniable condition. And yet, your administration, in fact, your own actions with the short-term limited-duration plans, by the way a classic Washington, DC doublespeak, short-term limited-duration health plans, have threatened families with preexisting conditions. And in fact, you’ve encouraged states to promote junk health plans through their waivers in order to circumvent essential health benefits and protections for preexisting conditions.

I was very proud to lead bipartisan legislation, it passed the House – Protecting Americans with Preexisting Conditions Act last May, and it will ensure that people with preexisting conditions are covered. But let me ask you, do you believe, Ms. Verma, that allowing individuals to once again be discriminated against or have their coverage declined due to preexisting conditions is moving the country in the right direction for health care? Just yes or no.

VERMA: None of the actions that we have taken do anything to undermine the protections for people with preexisting conditions.

KUSTER: Well, encouraging junk plans that do not cover Americans with preexisting conditions – we heard the testimony right here. We had families right in front of us and they had no idea, there was no requirement that they be warned of that. And instead of three months, these were a year and they could be re-upped multiple times so I think your testimony is not actually truthful to us today and I regret that. According to a 2019 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, half of Americans, as I mentioned, have a declinable condition. Did your agency conduct an analysis to evaluate the effects of the implementation of your guidance on these families and their access to affordable health insurance?

VERMA: I’m sorry, which guidance are you referring to?

KUSTER: The guidance that you provided about the waivers and the junk health plans. Did you analyze the impact on American families that had preexisting conditions, yes or no?

VERMA: So on the issue of the 1332 guidance that we put out for states, I can tell you that states have had an enormously difficult time experiencing the double-digit rate increases

KUSTER: Did you analyze what would happen to families with preexisting conditions, yes or no?

VERMA: The way the guidelines work is we give a basically direction to states about how they can develop plans to make…

KUSTER: I’m asking if your office analyzed the impact of your guidance, yes or no?

VERMA: We would have to review proposals for every state…

KUSTER: Can you provide that to this committee, your analysis?

VERMA: Every proposal that comes in under 1332 is analyzed around the four guardrails around comprehensive coverage…

KUSTER: Could you provide that analysis to this committee? My time is up, so yes or no that you’ll provide that analysis to this committee.

CHAIR: The gentlelady’s time has expired.