Pittsburgh is a tiny island of blue surrounded by a sea of red. Pennsylvania’s 14th U.S. congressional district was won by Mike Doyle (D-Forest Hills) with 74 percent of the vote in 2016, but the next closest Pennsylvania Democratic-controlled U.S. House district is in Schuylkill County, more than 130 miles away.
But that isolation isn’t stopping Doyle from defending one of the Democrats' biggest accomplishments in the last decade, the passage of the Affordable Care Act. (Doyle will hold a town hall in Pittsburgh, on March 18, to listen to constituents' opinions on health care.)
Last week, Doyle spoke at two House committees, the Ways and Means Committee and the Energy and Commerce Committee, where he staunchly defended the ACA, elevating his voice many times to make his point.
On March 8, speaking in the House Ways and Means Committee, Doyle said “there is a lot of amnesia on this committee” and reminded the representatives about the state of American health care before the implementation of the ACA.
“Insurance companies could discriminate against sick people,” said Doyle. “People had insurance, but had someone in the family with a chronic condition, and they would come up against their cap and people couldn’t get any more payment from their insurance company. They would hold fish frys to try to raise money for their kids, and eventually they went bankrupt and lost their homes. We put an end to that.”
Doyle then took issue with many Congressional Republicans who claim that the ACA is in “death spiral.” He said that House Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-Wisconsin) bill, called the American Health Care Act, keeps many aspects that were created under the ACA, like allowing adults under 26 to stay on parents' health care and prohibiting insurance companies from charging higher prices to people with pre-existing conditions.
“Don’t call this failure, it's not a failure,” said Doyle. “If it was such a failure, why isn't that you haven’t just abolished all those things we did? You are keeping a lot of things. … Don’t cast the vote anyway and try to take credit that you have done something great for the American people. The only thing that is any good about what you are proposing, are the things that we did eight years ago in the Affordable Care Act.”
On March 9, in the Energy and Commerce Committee, which Doyle sits on, he continued his fiery defense of the ACA, even while recognizing the law needs adjusting.
In 2010, the ACA passed the House by a vote of 219-212. All 178 House Republicans voted against the bill, a strategy orchestrated by then-House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Virginia). The day after the ACA cleared the house, House Republicans introduced a bill to repeal the law.
During the Energy and Commerce Committee hearing, some Republicans objected to the mandates in the ACA, and Doyle was confused by this objection.
“What mandate in the [ACA] bill does he take issue with?” asked Doyle. “Certainly not in the pre-existing conditions, or caps on benefits, or letting your child stay on the policy till 26. I am curious. What is it we are mandating?”
Rep. John Shimkus (R-Illinois) responded to Doyle’s question asking, “What about men having to purchase prenatal care? Is that not correct?”
Shimkus' objection was widely panned by pro-choice and women’s health groups, and picked up by almost every major news organization. Doyle was perplexed.
“There is no such thing as a la carte insurance, John,” said Doyle. Shimkus then said that health-insurance consumers should be able to “negotiate a plan that they want,” hinting that consumers should only have to pay for coverage they personally need.
However, individual health insurance did offer a la carte choices for maternity care before the ACA. But this system made it almost impossible for people to access maternity care through health insurance. The National Women’s Law Center reported in 2013 (before the ACA was fully implemented) that only 12 percent of individual market plans included maternity benefits, even as nine U.S. states mandated that maternity care be included in health coverage. Before the ACA, many maternity-care plans were actually more expensive than the cost of entire health-insurance plans.
Doyle’s public town hall will be held from 2-4 p.m. Sat., March 18, at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall, in Oakland.