Yesterday, the U.S. Senate made a powerful statement to Utah and the nation: increasing premiums, unaffordable care and regulatory red-tape should not be the standard of health care in this country. Our discussion to draft legislation to repeal Obamacare and its mandates, as modified by the Senate, is not perfect. It is, rather, a work in the art of the doable. Through compromise and negotiation, we have managed to incorporate differing opinions representing Americans from all parts of the country, not just the East Coast and urban elites.
This proposal assures that Utahns get a fair shake. In the past, the Beehive State was known for having some of the most affordable coverage in the country, but Obamacare has reduced our quality of care and increased out-of-pocket expenses. Obamacare, from its very design to its botched implementation, did not stand a chance of bringing the quality care that Utahns deserve.
The status quo under Obamacare is simply unacceptable. Once replaced, premiums will be lower, allowing Utahns more freedom to spend hard-earned income, while quality will improve, providing Utahns the care they deserve.
I heard loud and clear from Utahns that coverage of pre-existing conditions and maintaining dependents until age 26 were top priorities for our families and loved ones, which is why I fought to include these provisions in this bill.
I’ve also heard Utahns’ concerns for vulnerable children, which is why I made sure children with disabilities are insulated from the new Medicaid reforms. As such, their care will remain coordinated and prioritized by the doctors that treat them every day. Moreover, Utahns asked that we protect the Medicaid preventative care benefits for children; those remain unaffected.
Another policy area that Utahns urged me to prioritize is mental health. In addition to continuing my efforts to increase funding for mental health services, we achieved a feat that even Democratic presidents and Congresses could not achieve — we have lifted the exclusion of Medicaid services for adults receiving inpatient psychiatric treatment for mental health or addiction. This policy has been a part of Medicaid since the program passed in 1965, and it has been a burden for states ever since. This accomplishment is only a first step, but no previous Congress has successfully moved the policy forward.
We were also mindful of the benefits of Medicare and left the program untouched to protect Utah seniors.
Finally, Utahns asked me to ensure that hospitals that care for our poorest and most vulnerable neighbors and friends receive the necessary funding to continue their important work. With the help and advice of Utah’s health leaders, we have included a provision to give Utah’s hospitals — both rural and urban — the funds they need to care for our loved ones.
We have now been debating health care for nearly a decade. In that time, I’ve had hundreds of meetings with stakeholders on every side of the issue, spoken with thousands of residents, chaired numerous hearings and negotiated endlessly with my colleagues in the Senate. The result is a plan that represents the culmination of a years-long effort to fix our broken health care system. This replacement for Obamacare will now be scored by the Congressional Budget Office and brought to the floor of the Senate for amendments. The final product will repeal Obamacare and replace it with something better — but only after conducting a close study and receiving input from all sides.
Significant legislation requires compromise. Senators represent different populations with different health needs. States deserve to be treated as partners, not enemies, in our health system. While this discussion draft will help move the effort forward, I will continue to review this proposal and work with my colleagues to provide better care for all Americans.
Orrin Hatch is the senior U.S. senator from Utah.