House health plan would take America backwards

House health plan would take America backwards

Any plan to reform the nation’s health care system should aspire to make health care better, more affordable and readily available for all Americans.

Unfortunately, the U.S. House of Representatives’ latest attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) does exactly the opposite by slashing hundreds of billions of dollars from the country’s health care infrastructure, removing protections to make health insurance accessible for older people and those with pre-existing conditions, while giving tax breaks to the rich.

Yesterday’s analysis from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) quantified the disastrous implications of the American Health Care Act (AHCA). In short, the CBO score found that 23 million people will lose health insurance coverage if the AHCA — approved hastily and narrowly by the House earlier this month — is passed by the U.S. Senate and signed into law by President Trump.

To add insult to injury, the CBO determined the AHCA will destabilize the private insurance market, increase health costs for everyone, raise premiums for older Americans and price people with pre-existing conditions out of the market.

What does this mean for Colorado? Consider these facts:

* The ACHA will cut $800 billion from federal Medicaid funds, causing 14 million Americans and at least 600,000 Coloradans to lose coverage. This will result in a revenue loss of $14 billion for Colorado by 2030. Not only would this put the health of individual Coloradans at serious risk, it would force those needing immediate medical attention to get care through emergency rooms, shift health costs to consumers with coverage and likely force financially strained rural hospitals to shut their doors to patients.

* The ACHA allows states to modify the requirements for essential health benefits, which set the minimum standards for the benefits that insurance in the non-group and small-group markets must cover. In states that are granted waivers, community-rated premiums would rise overtime and those with pre-existing medical conditions would be unable to purchase comprehensive non-group health insurance – causing many people to become uninsured. Though the AHCA earmarks some federal funds to help defray coverage costs for those with pre-existing conditions, Colorado’s pre-ACA “high-risk pool” proved to be prohibitively expensive for consumers who needed it. If Colorado succumbed to market pressure to file such a waiver, many Coloradans with pre-existing conditions might simply be forced to “go without” health insurance coverage – a potentially costly proposition for them and their families if they get sick.

* Older Coloradans who lack the benefit of employer-sponsored plans and are too young to qualify for Medicare would pay significantly more for insurance plans under the AHCA because the legislation reduces or eliminates subsidies currently available under the ACA as well as removing protections for older enrollees. According to Kaiser Family Foundation, a 60-year-old living in Morgan County eligible for tax credits would pay $2,680 today for insurance through Colorado’s health insurance exchange, Connect for Health Colorado – about 8 percent of that person’s income. Under the AHCA, that same person would pay $13,160 for insurance — or 40 percent of that person’s income. While the CBO found that the AHCA would reduce premiums for younger insurance enrollees, it does so at the expense of older Americans.

* Congress promised that any alternative to the Affordable Care Act would reduce out-of-pocket health care costs but the CBO analysis makes it crystal clear that costs will rise precipitously. “Out-of-pocket spending on maternity care and mental health and substance abuse services could increase by thousands of dollars in a given year for the non-group enrollees who would use those services,” the CBO’s analysts wrote. Furthermore, “Some enrollees could see large increases in out-of-pocket spending because annual or lifetime limits would be allowed.”

* About 1.75 million veterans – 41,000 in Colorado – could see their health care coverage weakened or lost entirely if the AHCA became law, according to a report released May 22 by Families USA and VoteVets.

It seems to be a point of pride among certain House members that the American Health Care Act will “end Medicaid as we know it,” and relieve Americans from the obligation to buy insurance coverage. But yesterday’s CBO score reveals that the AHCA also will gut the American health care system on the backs of low- and middle-income families, while providing more than $600 billion in tax breaks for the rich and corporations. Though there’s certainly room for improvement with the ACA, bankruptcy rates have dropped by 50 percent in the U.S. since its passage in 2010. Yet, Congress is proposing to strip millions of Americans of the basic security that health insurance provides.

House leaders claim this version of the AHCA is an “improvement” over the first draft (which did not get enough support to clear the House floor), but the CBO score reveals the long-term effects of this incarnation are even more devastating for most Americans. While Colorado’s U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner has called for a “glide path” to give states flexibility to reform health care, the AHCA is clearly a navigational route for a “crash landing.”

As Senate leaders reportedly work on their own plan to repeal and replace the ACA, Coloradans need to let Senators Gardner and Michael Bennet know that they object to any proposal that makes health insurance less available and more expensive.

Please join us in calling U.S. Senators to work on a bipartisan solution to improve upon the ACA and make the basic need of health care better, more affordable and available to all.