President Joe Biden delivers remarks at NJ Transit Meadowlands Maintenance Complex to promote his "Build Back Better" agenda, Monday, Oct. 25, 2021, in Kearny, N.J. Credit: Evan Vucci / AP

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Troy Jackson is the president of the Maine Senate.

Every morning, I take four different pills to help manage my heart condition — a condition that might have killed me were I not serving in the Maine Legislature when I began feeling those initial chest pains. Fortunately, I was rushed to the hospital for heart surgery. Thirty minutes later, I had a pacemaker in my chest.

Make no mistake, I’m very lucky to be alive. The only reason I had health insurance that day was because the people in northern Maine elected me to represent them in Augusta, and lawmakers are provided with health insurance. It’s something I won’t ever forget.

Before serving in the Legislature, I often went without health care coverage. It never came with the job and purchasing a private plan simply wasn’t an option on a logger’s salary before the Affordable Care Act.

I know what happens when folks go without health care coverage. I’ve lived it and watched my friends and family do the same. The consequences can be deadly.

It’s why I’m fighting every day to lower health care and prescription drug costs in Augusta. It’s time for Congress to do the same. The Build Back Better Act is a good place to start. It includes vital provisions to strengthen the Affordable Care Act and rein in the cost of prescription drugs.

As part of the American Rescue Plan, Congress temporarily expanded the Premium Tax Credit. The results in Maine were immediate: First-time enrollment in the ACA more than doubled, setting a new Maine record. On average, monthly premiums were cut in half, or by about $72. Maine ACA consumers saved a total of more than $2.5 million.

There’s no question that expanding the Premium Tax Credit was the right move for Maine.

However, the expanded tax credit is set to expire when your health insurance policy for next year ends. It simply doesn’t make sense. More Maine families can now afford health care coverage through the ACA. Why would we go backwards? Instead, Congress must pass the Build Back Better Act and make these changes permanent.

Health insurance is just part of the problem. Out-of-control prescription drug prices have forced Mainers to make choices between basic essentials and compromising their health for years.

For years, Maine and other states have led the charge to lower prescription drug prices in the wake of federal inaction. Despite the odds, we’ve taken on Big Pharma, and in many cases, we’ve won.

I’m enormously proud of our efforts here in Maine, but it cannot and should not be on states alone to tackle prescription drug reform.

The compromise proposal reached by lawmakers in Washington, D.C., regarding prescription drug reform in the Build Back Better Act is promising. It has the potential to deliver meaningful relief to thousands of Mainers, and it’s long overdue. It would penalize drug companies for raising drug prices faster than inflation, cap drug costs for seniors and individuals living with disabilities, and allow Medicare to negotiate some drug prices.

It’s time for the federal government to step up and do its job to rein in an industry that makes outrageous profits on the backs of hardworking families and seniors struggling to afford life-saving medication.

The best doctors in the world can’t save lives if people can’t afford to see them. The same is true for medication. Lifesaving medication is worthless if regular people can’t afford it. The Build Back Better Act will change lives if Congress has the courage to stand up and pass it.

In addition to the health care and prescription drug reforms, this legislation lowers costs of things families depend on, delivers a historic tax cut for working and middle class families, and makes urgently needed, once-in-a-generation investments in our nation’s future. It is fully paid for by ensuring the ultra-wealthy and large corporations finally pay their fair share and can’t cheat on their tax bills. Small businesses and those making less than $400,000 will not see their taxes go up.

The time to act is now and I urge our congressional delegation to support the Build Back Better Act to grow our economy from the middle out, not the top down, and build our country back better for families across Maine and the country.