The clock is ticking for action on the Affordable Care Act following last month's failure to repeal and replace President Obama's signature legislation.
While seated at a corner table at Garden of Eatin restaurant in Levittown on Wednesday afternoon, Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick, R-8, of Middletown, said he recognized the sense of urgency on stabilizing the individual markets.
That's why the bipartisan House Problem Solvers Caucus released earlier this week its five-point proposal to fix parts of the ACA, Fitzpatrick said.
"That was the purpose of the proposal, to inject a sense of urgency," Fitzpatrick said. "This is our temporary, bipartisan fix until we get a permanent solution."
A couple days into Congress' August recess, Fitzpatrick had just spent an hour answering questions on the air at Levittown's WBCB radio station. The Garden of Eatin is a favorite spot for Fitzpatrick, who said he regularly stops in on Sundays after church.
The post-lunch, pre-dinner Wednesday afternoon left a sparsely filled, quiet restaurant as Fitzpatrick touched on several topics between bites of his garden salad, washed down with a cup of coffee.
Millions of Americans who rely on the ACA to guarantee coverage for pre-existing conditions or expanded Medicaid payments to help cover costs were relieved when the Senate failed in its attempt to pass a repeal bill. However, President Trump has not made it clear if he will allow to go unchallenged the payment of cost-sharing reimbursements to insurance companies participating in the individual exchanges.
That uncertainty has insurance companies looking at possible rate hikes for the 2018 market, and either the White House or Congress has until the end of September to clear everything up.
Stabilizing the cost-sharing reimbursements is the top priority in the Problem Solvers Caucus' proposal, and Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, of Tennessee, chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, has made it clear the reimbursements will be item number one when he convenes bipartisan committee hearings on health care the week of Sept. 4.
"The individual marketplace is what needs to be rescued right now," Fitzpatrick said. "The actuaries in these companies need to start pricing out their products. They are threatening to increase premiums, in some cases up to 30 percent. We can't allow that to happen."
Fitzpatrick seemed hopeful after months of partisan bickering on the future of the ACA that the settling dust has allowed a bipartisan solution to take shape. The people on the extreme wings of either party are never going to agree on legislation, Fitzpatrick said, but people he describes as "reasonable folks" have embraced the proposal.
"I'm a big believer in the need to fix the system," Fitzpatrick said. "We all need a health care system that works. We're all going to get old, we're all going to get sick and we're all going to get injured. We need a health care system that's low-cost, high-quality and has expanded access."
Bipartisanship was a running theme during his first congressional election campaign, and Fitzpatrick says he has tried to adhere to that during his first seven months in office. He partnered with Democratic Congressman Brendan Boyle in the neighboring 13th District, in Northeast Philadelphia and Montgomery County, to lobby for more attention paid to the issue of perfluorinated chemicals contaminating the water supply in communities in Bucks and Montgomery counties.
They have attached three amendments to the latest National Defense Authorization Act that requires the Department of Defense to partner with local governments and provide health screenings in neighborhoods close to the air bases where firefighting compounds containing PFCs were used. The amendments also call for the Department of Defense to pay for a health study into the long-term effects of PFCs and provide an update on the department's progress developing an alternative firefighting foam that does not use the perfluorinated chemicals PFOS and PFOA.
"We passed the House version, and the Senate will pass its own version, and then we will go into conference," said Fitzpatrick. "Senators (Bob) Casey and (Pat) Toomey have been supportive, so I feel confident we'll get these in the final draft. We'll get in as many as we can."
Fitzpatrick is also looking forward to the return of regular order to Congress as the focus shifts to tax reform. The drafting of the House and Senate bills occurred mostly behind closed doors, with little time spent in committees or public hearings on the legislation.
A group of Republican legislators from Congress and the executive branch has started putting together a framework for tax reform. Last week, the group, dubbed the Big Six, ruled out a border adjustment tax from the reform package. Once completed, the legislation will go to the House for normal committee review and hearings, Fitzpatrick said.
"It will make its way through the Ways and Means committee," Fitzpatrick said. "Then we'll start the amendment process on the floor of the House. My big thing is that it should go through regular order and that there be hearings where everybody who is a stakeholder has a chance to be heard. Their input needs to be part of the legislative package."
Any reforms would need to include cuts to both individuals and corporations, Fitzpatrick said. The current corporate tax rate of 35 percent is one of the highest in the world and keeps the U.S. from being competitive with other countries, he said. There needs to be a "sweet spot" where the tax is low enough to be competitive, but not so low that will bleed tax revenue.
Fitzpatrick supports reducing income tax brackets from seven to three and eliminating deductions and loopholes. The Internal Revenue code is a mess, he said, weighing in at 70,000 pages of costly bureaucracy.
"CPAs like myself had a hard time navigating that," said Fitzpatrick. "Unless they have a tax attorney that can handle the complex system, the average person gets crushed. Bringing down the marginal rates and getting rid of the special interest deductions and loopholes, coupled with regulatory reform and a balanced budget amendment, are key to growing the economy."