Clyburn OP-ED: ACA is the Civil Rights Act of the 21st Century

Jan 17, 2017

WASHINGTON U.S. House Assistant Democratic Leader James E. Clyburn (SC) published the following op-ed in the Charleston Post and Courier today:


This week we are observing Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. Many of us are celebrating by defending the Affordable Care Act (ACA), our nation’s attempt to end discrimination against people who are born sick, or get sick. King once said, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.”

I often refer to the ACA as the Civil Rights Act of the 21st Century. History will not forgive our putting disparate treatment back into and insurance companies back in charge of, our healthcare delivery system. Repealing the ACA would be devastating to our economy. Experts predict that a total repeal would increase the national debt and explode the federal deficit, $320 billion over ten years. Are we really willing to mortgage the future of our children to achieve an ill-fated partisan goal of cutting off health care for millions of Americans?

During the eight years prior to President Obama’s administration, health care costs increased by 80 percent. During the nearly eight years of the Obama administration healthcare costs have increased only 30 percent. Repealing the law could reverse this historic trend and endanger the health and welfare of millions of individuals and families throughout the country.

In my home state of South Carolina, 417,000 individuals have gained coverage under the ACA including 107,000 children. All of them are at risk of having their coverage rolled back. Those 35,000 young adults in South Carolina who are able to stay on a parent’s health insurance plan - thanks to the ACA - would lose coverage if the Republican-led Congress eliminates the requirement that insurers allow children to stay on their parents’ plans until age 26.

But the ACA is not just about children and young adults. Nearly 100,000 senior citizens who are saving an average of $1,088 each, as a result of closing the Medicare prescription drug “donut hole” gap in coverage, stand to lose this critical help going forward. Roughly 822,000 individuals in the state who have pre-existing health conditions would be at risk of having their coverage rescinded, or being denied coverage, or being charged significantly more for coverage if the ACA is repealed.

In addition, 1.9 million individuals in South Carolina who now have private health insurance that covers preventive services without any co-pays, coinsurance, or deductibles stand to lose this ability if Congress eliminates the ACA provisions that require health insurers to cover important preventive services without cost-sharing. Women who can now purchase insurance for the same price as men will be at risk of being charged more for insurance if the ACA’s ban on gender rating in the individual and small group markets is eliminated. Before the ACA, women paid up to 53 percent more than men for their health insurance.

But there are other significant parts of the ACA that seldom get talked about. Parts that affect all citizens irrespective of income, gender or ethnicity. One of them is the elimination of annual and lifetime caps on benefits. I will never forget the lady from Florence, S.C., who told me that she was ecstatic over the ACA’s passage because she had just been informed by her insurance provider that - because of her eight year old daughter’s cancer treatments – her family had reached their lifetime limit of coverage.

Another seldom mentioned, but significant benefit, is the requirement that insurance companies return at least 80 percent of the premiums they collect to their policy holders. And if their annual audits indicate that they failed to do so, they must send rebates to those policy holders.

Repeal of the ACA without a sensible, affordable alternative would be devastating to individuals and families throughout South Carolina and the country.

James E. Clyburn, a Democrat, represents South Carolina’s 6th District in the U.S. House of Representatives.