Amid seemingly endless congressional deliberations between the House and Senate on taxing and spending priorities in the multitrillion-dollar childcare, education and health care package, Rep. Robin Kelly (D-2nd) is touting her proposed extra funding for health equity measures.
The Build Back Better Act, which may cost up to $3.5 trillion, is the Democrats' "human infrastructure" package that they must pass with a united caucus, progressives and moderates together. Republicans have promised no support. The Senate has passed a bipartisan multibillion-dollar physical infrastructure bill, action on which remains to have been taken in the House.
All the while, the nation is about to reach the edge of its debt ceiling, and GOP Senate Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) has announced a new precedent in saying his minority party will not help Democrats in raising it.
Kelly's contributions to the Build Back Better Act, which have passed through committee, include extended coverage in both the Medicaid and Medicare programs.
In terms of Medicaid, all women, regardless of whether or not they live in states that have expanded the program under the Affordable Care Act, would get one year of the program's postpartum benefits. Medicaid typically only covers care for 60 days after childbirth.
Kelly's legislation would also extend Medicaid coverage to those living in states that did not expand it under Obamacare by expanding the ACA's premium tax credit to below 100% of the federal poverty line and providing enhanced cost-sharing assistance from 2022-24. In 2025, her bill would establish a federal Medicaid program in the remaining non-expansion states.
Beginning in 2028, Kelly's legislation would also add new dental benefits, including coverage for screening and preventative service, basic and major treatments, and dentures, to seniors using Medicare Part B.
In a Sept. 23 interview from Capitol Hill, Kelly noted her involvement with health care, gun violence prevention, economic development and technology. She is the vice chair of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, on which Hyde Park-Kenwood's other representative, Bobby Rush (D-1st), serves (he chairs the Subcommittee on Energy).
"We have a heavy portfolio, and I carry a heavy healthcare portfolio, and I've been working on issues around maternal mortality and the bigger-issue health inequities," Kelly said. "But with maternal mortality, still too many women are dying. And it may not be the day they give birth. It may be leading up. It could be that day. Or it could be within a year after, which is the postpartum period considered by the medical professionals."
Kelly's one-year postpartum Medicaid extension was included in the March-passed American Rescue Plan, but it was only temporary and only in states that had expanded Medicaid. "Illinoisans are fortunate because Illinois was the first state to (expand Medicaid)," Kelly said. "But what we are trying to do is close that Medicaid gap. There's 12 states that didn't take advantage, and so millions of people are still uninsured."
The United States has the highest rate of maternal mortality among developed countries. Mortality rates for Black women are more than three times higher compared to the rate of white women, and women of color also experience more pregnancy complications and risk factors.
Kelly said she is optimistic about the chance of her priorities' passage through Congress, noting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calif.) legislative finesse. She said Washington state Rep. Suzan DelBene, who chairs the moderate New Democrat Coalition, supports her proposals.
Kelly acknowledged congressional Democrats' slim majorities in each chamber and said the feeling to the member is that "we've got to take advantage of this while we've got this right now."
"I hope that gives everybody pause, that it needs to be bigger than us," she said. "If these things pass, this is a game-changer for people. And we've done some really good things already. And this can really take us forward for many, many, many years to come."
Beyond the bipartisan public works plan that includes money for roads, broadband internet and water infrastructure, the Build Back Better Act could extend the child tax credits and health insurance subsidies created by the American Rescue Plan. It could create tuition-free pre-kindergarten and community college, paid family leave, a Civilian Climate Corps and a pathway to citizenship for people living in the country illegally.
"Maybe we are trying to accomplish a lot, but we're trying to take advantage of the times," Kelly said. "This is a moment of time, this can change history, this can really change people's lives. By some things that we've done already with the child tax credit, do you know how many kids were brought out of poverty? This is just another part of that journey, that we can really make a difference. And especially after COVID, some people have rebounded, but there's still people hurting. And this can make a difference in their lives."