The U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee today passed the Helping Sick Americans Now Act (H.R. 1549) by a vote of 27 to 20. The legislation, introduced this week by Health Subcommittee Chairman Joe Pitts (R-PA) and Vice Chairman Michael C. Burgess, M.D. (R-TX), along with Rep. Ann Wagner (R-MO), would immediately help provide health care coverage to individuals with pre-existing health conditions. The Obama administration recently announced sick Americans would be barred from enrolling in the health care law's Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan (PCIP) due to financial constraints. The administration shut the door for new applicants to PCIP, despite promises that vulnerable Americans with pre-existing conditions would receive coverage through 2014.
"In the context of health reform, helping those with pre-existing conditions obtain health insurance has been one of the few areas of agreement between Republicans and Democrats over the last several years," stated Health Subcommittee Chairman Pitts. "Those with pre-existing conditions are currently among the most vulnerable Americans in terms of health insurance coverage. I want to thank my colleagues for supporting this common sense bill."
Health Subcommittee Vice Chairman Dr. Michael C. Burgess (R-TX), noted, "House Republicans have urged the president to work with us on a solution to this issue, yet he has remained silent. Today we have a solution. I applaud this committee's action to correct the administration's failure to follow-up on their promises to the American people."
The Helping Sick Americans Now Act would transfer approximately $4 billion from the Prevention and Public Health Fund to PCIP in order to provide help for those with pre-existing conditions. In addition to eliminating the Obamacare implementation slush fund, the bill is expected to cut the deficit. This legislation would also eliminate the onerous ACA requirement that Americans go uninsured for six months as a condition of eligibility for PCIP.
The legislation is the latest of several efforts to draw attention to and address this urgent issue. On March 5, 2013, committee leaders, along with House GOP Leadership, raised the issue in a letter to the president recommending the transfer of funds from other programs in the health care law to PCIP. On April 3, 2013, the committee held a hearing with a patient recently denied access to the program.
In supporting the legislation, Chairman Upton stated, "This bill is a win, win, win. It eliminates an unaccountable slush fund, it prioritizes funding for vulnerable Americans, and it cuts the deficit. Two weeks ago, the committee heard testimony from a patient named Susan Zurface, who struggles with leukemia. Her application was completed and ready to be sent when CMS announced they were suspending enrollment in the program. This legislation eliminates an unnecessary slush fund, and instead prioritizes the nation's most vulnerable like Susan who have been denied coverage because of Obamacare's broken promises."
The bill has strong support within the rare disease patient community. Groups that have expressed support for the Helping Sick Americans Now Act include the Adult Congenital Heart Association, CADASIL Association, GBS/CIDP Foundation International, Global Genes, Hemophilia Federation of America, Hereditary Angioedema Association, Immune Deficiency Foundation, Lipodystrophy United, Little Miss Hannah Foundation, The Mastocytosis Society, MLD Foundation, National Gaucher Foundation, Inc., National MPS Society, National PKU Alliance, and Noah's Hope for LINCL-Batten Disease.