Sen. Ron Wyden

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Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden said Tuesday, a key element many have missed in the American Rescue Plan is new funding for the Affordable Care Act.

The COVID relief plan passed by Congress and signed into law by Pres. Joe Biden was lauded by many for sending cash to many Americans. But Wyden said helping with medical insurance was a key element.

“What the American Rescue Plan was all about is it built on the hopes and aspirations of workers and their families,” Wyden said. “We help people with premiums they couldn’t possibly figure out how to pay in the middle of a pandemic.”

Wyden joined Sen. Patty Murray of Washington and Congressman Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey during a press conference Tuesday with Protect Our Care. The three Democrats lauded the increased funding for the ACA as well as increased funding to expand Medicaid in states.

Murray, the chair of the Senate HELP Committee, said the COVID-19 pandemic showed how weak the healthcare system was.

“This pandemic turned a crisis into a catastrophe,” Murray said. “This pandemic is the biggest healthcare crisis in a century.”

Murray said millions of people lost jobs due to the pandemic, and with the job losses, they lost insurance.

She said the American Rescue Plan is the biggest expansion of healthcare since the Affordable Care Act, which was approved 11 years ago.

One key aspect, Murray said, was the new funding makes premiums more affordable. A single person making $17,000 a year will have no premium, while a single person making $34,000 a year will pay $85 a month, half of what was charged before the new law took effect.

“There’s still plenty of work ahead to finally ensure healthcare in this country is a right, not just a privilege,” Murray said. “The work we just did will help millions of Americans.”

Wyden, the chair of the Senate Finance Committee, said the goal of the American Rescue Act was to help people today.

“We recognized we have to deal with shortcomings in the employer-based system,” Wyden said. “We said, we’re going to help people right now.”

Some of the aspects Wyden pointed out were a 5 percent increase in reimbursements to states that expand Medicaid, provisions to deal with the nursing home tragedy that occurred in COVID and lower costs to patients.

“I was home last weekend and had a virtual town hall meeting,” Wyden said. “The first question was about prescription drug costs. People are getting mugged at the pharmacy counter. That’s what I heard in Astoria, and that’s what we hear in America. I believe over the next few months, we’re going to focus on lowering drug costs. This is going to be the time where we get results.”

While Wyden said he was happy with the American Rescue Plan, he called it a down payment on what is really needed.

“We think the American Rescue Plan was a big, big leap forward,” he said. “We also believe there’s a lot more to do.”

Pallone, the chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said new provisions now law will allow people to qualify for financial assistance if they make up to 400 percent of the poverty level. He also applauded a measure that will keep pregnant women on Medicaid for a full year after they give birth.

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