With plans for a massive overhaul of the nation’s health law at least temporarily off the table, some Washington lawmakers are pushing ahead with efforts to address widely acknowledged shortcomings in the individual insurance marketplace. The chairman of the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee has announced plans for bipartisan-spirited hearings starting in September aimed at stabilizing the individual market.
“There are a number of issues with the American health care system, but if your house is on fire, you want to put out the fire, and the fire in this case is the individual health insurance market. Both Republicans and Democrats agree on this,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R, Tenn., the committee’s chairman. “Our committee had one hearing on Feb. 1 on this subject, and we’ll work intensively between now and the end of September to finish our work in time to have an effect on the health insurance policies sold in 2018.”
Meanwhile, a centrist House group dubbed the Problem Solvers caucus is forming a plan also aimed at boosting the individual market for health insurance by funding cost-sharing subsidies, among other changes.
Following the defeat of the Health Care Freedom Act, a proposal that would have implemented a “skinny repeal” of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), AMA President David O. Barbe, MD, MHA, said the first priority of Congress should be to stabilize the individual insurance marketplace “to achieve the goal of providing access to quality, affordable health coverage for more Americans.”
“While we are relieved that the Senate did not adopt legislation that would have harmed patients and critical safety net programs, the status quo is not acceptable,” Dr. Barbe said in a statement. “We urge Congress to initiate a bipartisan effort to address shortcomings in the Affordable Care Act.”
The skinny repeal measure would have eliminated some of the taxes and insurance mandates included in the ACA. Before the vote early Friday morning, Dr. Barbe described it as “a toxic prescription that would make matters worse” by triggering premium price increases and further destabilizing the individual market.
Grassroots effort applauded
After the vote, Dr. Barbe thanked patients and physicians who worked together in a successful grassroots effort to protect coverage and access to quality, affordable care.
“Much work remains to be done to address problems and gaps in our health care system,” Dr. Barbe added. “We greatly appreciate your partnership and your continued engagement with the AMA to improve the health of the nation.”
As different repeal bills advanced through Congress, the Congressional Budget Office calculated how each one would result in tens of millions of Americans losing their insurance coverage and projected how premiums would rise and federal Medicaid funding would be sharply reduced.
The AMA commissioned polls in battleground states— Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Nevada, Ohio, Tennessee and West Virginia—and found widespread support for Medicaid and opposition to reducing its funding as would happen if bills like the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) were adopted.
The AMA voiced strong opposition to the BCRA, a bill that the Congressional Budget Office projected would result in 22 million more uninsured by 2026 compared to existing law. The AMA also opposed the repeal bill passed by the House, the American Healthcare Act of 2017. The CBO projected that measure would have resulted in 33 million more Americans being uninsured by 2026.
Putting patients before politics
The AMA outlined its principles of reform on the www.patientsbeforepolitics.org website. The Association also joined with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, AARP, American Diabetes Association, March of Dimes and other organizations as part of Protect Patients First, and held events in Cleveland; Denver; Reno, Nevada; and Charleston, West Virginia; where patients told their stories of how they would be negatively affected by ACA repeal legislation.
The organization’s position was made especially clear when the AMA House of Delegates adopted a policy to “oppose caps on federal Medicaid funding” at the 2017 Annual Meeting held in June.