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Posts Tagged 'affordable care act'

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Throwing More Money at Wavering Senators’ States Doesn’t Improve Graham-Cassidy

To paraphrase W.C. Fields, it seems as if news of the death of the Graham-Cassidy bill is greatly exaggerated.  As veteran Kaiser Health News correspondent Julie Rovner tweeted this morning:

FWIW I will not believe health bill is really dead until I see it with an actual stake through it.

Her caution is well warranted.  Anti-repeal advocates breathed a sigh of relief last Friday when Senator John McCain (R-AZ) announced his opposition to the bill.  But opponents of Graham-Cassidy still need one more GOP vote to kill it before the September 30th deadline, and so far only McCain and Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) have announced as ‘No’s.  Some Hill-watchers are wary of Rand Paul’s position and predict he will flip to ‘Yes’ at the last minute, as he has done previously.  On the other hand, this weekend Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) threw cold water on Graham-Cassidy because he says it doesn’t go far enough in undoing Obamacare regulations:

"Right now they don't have my vote, and I don't think they have Mike Lee's either," Cruz said. "I want to be a yes."              –  Senator Ted Cruz

Seeing their Obamacare repeal bill appear to collapse before their eyes, Senators Lindsay Graham (R-SC) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) have now sweetened the deal to try to buy off two wavering moderate Senators, Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Susan Collins (R-ME).   The Graham-Cassidy bill was changed over the weekend to give away tens of millions of dollars to two of America’s least populous states.  Alaska would net $3 million more in federal health spending than under current law from 2020-2026, and Maine $43 million.  Of course, when Graham-Cassidy’s block grants to states expire in 2026, both states will lose funding along with the other 48.   Steven Dennis of Bloomberg handicaps it this way:


These buy-offs may or may not bring Senators Murkowski and Collins over to the ‘Yes’ side.  Nor should they.  Both Senators have expressed deep concerns about other parts of the bill:  Sen. Murkowski for its elimination of protections for pre-existing conditions; Sen. Collins for its deep cuts to Medicaid.  And of course, these bribes for Alaska and Maine do not make the Graham-Cassidy bill any less egregious.  Every major group of stakeholders – insurers, doctors, hospitals, patients, and all 50 state Medicaid directors – have condemned this bill as a reckless assault on America’s health care system.  National Committee president Max Richtman lays out the case in testimony given to the Senate Finance Committee. 

The Republicans supporting Graham-Cassidy don’t seem to care as much about improving healthcare as they do about fulfilling a reckless campaign promise and scoring a legislative “win,” even though the vast majority of the American people would actually lose.  Premium subsidies would be eliminated, pre-existing conditions no longer protected, essential benefits gutted, and Medicaid decimated to the point where crucial services would be cut for seniors, children and the disabled.  One look at this chart from Kaiser Health News showing where most Medicaid spending goes makes it crystal clear who gets hurt if Graham-Cassidy becomes law.

Senators Graham and Cassidy, along with their enablers in the Trump administration, will continue to falsely claim that their bill protects people with pre-existing conditions, when by leaving it to the states to decide, there is no such protection at all.  If states seek waivers to pre-existing conditions, insurers can jack up rates for patients with diabetes, cancer, heart disease and other chronic illnesses to the point of unaffordability.

Instead of believing more pablum, or trusting that the Republican-led Senate will do the right thing, we must keep up the pressure on wavering Senators (especially Collins and Murkwoski) to vote ‘No’ when the bill comes to the floor later this week.  If we are to see a stake through Obamacare repeal, we must make sure to put it there ourselves. 

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Two Paths Forward on Obamacare: One Reasonable, the Other Perilous

Newly back from summer recess, Senators are taking two divergent paths on healthcare after the Republicans’ spectacular failure to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  For Americans who rely on the ACA for health insurance, one path is encouraging; the other, fraught with peril. 

On the encouraging side, the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) committee are working on a bi-partisan plan to stabilize the ACA insurance markets, recognizing that the healthcare of millions of Americans hangs in the balance.  In fact, Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA) are up against a hard deadline.  Insurers need to know the level of federal support for the ACA marketplaces before they set premiums for 2018 at the end of September.

The legislation they devise will likely beef up cost-sharing payments to insurers who waive certain out-of-pocket costs for lower income patients, as well as re-insurance payments to help insurers cover high-risk populations.  While President Trump and hardline conservatives in Congress have indicated they would be content to let the Affordable Care Act languish, Senator Alexander wisely recognizes that the public will hold Republicans accountable if Americans lose healthcare.  In other words, the GOP will own the ACA, whether they like it or not. 

Unlike the Senate and House leadership during the repeal and replace debacle, the HELP committee has been holding hearings (imagine that!) to get input from outside of Congress on possible fixes to the ACA.  Last week, a group of Republican and Democratic governors of widely different ideologies sang from the same hymnal:  the ACA marketplaces must be stabilized.

Senators Alexander and Murray must finish their hearings, mark-up the bill, pass it out of committee, and hope that it reaches the Senate floor.  If Senate leadership feels the bill has bipartisan support, it may come to a vote.  Whether all of that can happen by the end of September is anyone’s guess.

On the discouraging side, Senators Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) just won’t let go of the repeal and replace agenda.  Undaunted by the GOP’s failure to get rid of the Affordable Care Act, Senators Cassidy and Graham are working on legislation to try, try again.  The Cassidy-Graham amendment is just as bad as - if not worse than - the failed Senate repeal bill last summer, and retains many of the most objectionable parts of the House-passed legislation.  Among other things, Cassidy-Graham:

*Ends the ACA’s Medicaid expansion  

*Cuts hundreds of billions of dollars in Medicaid spending

*Imposes per capita caps on Medicaid payments to the states

*Ends ACA subsidies and replaces them with inadequate block grants

*Leaves older and poorer Americans with no guarantee of affordable or adequate coverage

Were Senators Cassidy and Graham not paying attention when Americans at town halls across the nation expressed outrage at the GOP repeal and replace plans, including drastic cuts to Medicaid and more than 20 million people losing health coverage?  Did they not take seriously the Congressional Budget Office reporting on the negative impacts of repeal and replace on everyday Americans?  Apparently not. 

Fortunately for seniors – and all Americans who need healthcare – Senators Cassidy and Graham are running out of time.  Under Senate rules, their amendment cannot pass with a simple majority vote after the fiscal year ends on September 30th.  If they wanted to keep pushing for passage after that, they’d need 60 votes under regular order – a threshold they are not likely to meet.

Of course, it is premature for supporters of the ACA to declare victory.  We have seen seemingly dead repeal and replace bills suddenly spring back to life.  The legislative rollercoaster of last Spring and Summer are fresh in our memories.  Advocates and everyday Americans must keep the pressure on their elected representatives to work in a bipartisan fashion (like Sens. Alexander and Murray) to strengthen the Affordable Care Act– and reject repeal and replace once and for all.

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Summertime No Time to Stop Protecting Seniors' Healthcare

Washington, D.C. is noticeably mellower with Congress beginning its August recess.  Our “worst-in-the-U.S.” traffic is noticeably lighter.  The sidewalks are emptier.  The news from Capitol Hill has slowed to a trickle.  But the summer doldrums are no time for advocates here in D.C. or the 50 states to let our guard down.  (We just discussed this on "Behind the Headlines" from Capitol Hill on Facebook Live.) 

Last week, we narrowly escaped the passage of healthcare legislation that would have been devastating for poorer, older, and sicker Americans. The heroism of three GOP Senators and a united Democratic party pulled us back from the brink by voting against the latest Obamacare repeal bill.  

Make no mistake, intense grassroots activism in Congressional districts across the country played no small part in the defeat of repeal legislation in both houses of Congress.  From New Hampshire to Nevada, everyday Americans challenged their elected representatives to protect their healthcare – and won in a heart-pounding showdown.  

In the end, only Senators Collins, Murkowski, and McCain had the courage to defy party leadership and do the right thing.  That’s a thin reed on which to hang future hopes.  If a single one of those votes had gone the other way, at least 22 million Americans would have been well on their way to losing healthcare coverage – and the Medicaid program would have been decimated.  In fact, it’s disappointing that some of the Republican moderates who seemed to oppose the various repeal bills voted yes in the end.  Perhaps it’s because Senator McCain’s no vote gave them cover.  But where is the courage in that?

While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says it’s time to “move on,” Speaker Paul Ryan signaled that the House isn’t done trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act.   Meanwhile, President Trump continues to threaten to cut off crucial cost-sharing payments, spooking insurers and threatening to drive up premiums.  As Phil Moeller pointed out in his column for PBS NewsHour, there’s a real danger that the majority party will re-attack Obamacare after August recess ends.  

With Capitol Hill’s largely silent and long-postponed summer vacations underway, there is little appetite for re-engaging in nasty policy fights. But when the leaders and their troops are rested, there is little doubt that [they] will be back at it again. – Phil Moeller, PBS NewsHour

This means that we in the advocacy community cannot simply relax this month – tempting as that may be.  Advocates and everyday activists must continue to deliver the message to our elected representatives that it’s time to stop trying to destroy the Affordable Care Act and work across the aisle to improve it, as National Committee President Max Richtman argued in The Hill newspaper this week.  We must maintain the drumbeat whenever and wherever we encounter members of Congress this summer:  at their district offices, by phone, by email, or around town.

Make no mistake:  the activism we saw last winter and spring made a difference.  Members of Congress heard their constituents loud and clear at contentious town halls.  Phone lines, fax lines, and email accounts were jammed. Congress heard us when we said “Hands Off Our Healthcare!”

But even after all that full-throated activism, several GOP moderates in the House and Senate still caved when it was time to cast crucial votes. We came dangerously close to losing the Affordable Care Act. If anything, we must step up our activism.  We must make the case for protecting the healthcare of seniors – and all Americans – even more vociferously, letting our leaders know in personal terms the true impact of changes to our healthcare coverage. But we must also demand that our elected representatives talk to us. Hold town halls, don’t cancel them.  Keep phone lines open instead of shutting them down.  Hear us instead of hiding. And if there are future votes to undermine our healthcare, we must insist that more GOP moderates stick to their stated principles instead of running with the herd.


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Mr. President, Stop Saying Obamacare Is Imploding (Because It's Not)

updated 7/10/17

During a CNN focus group of Trump voters last week, one educated, white collar professional said that the Republican congress had to repeal and replace Obamacare because it is “imploding.”  That Trump supporter directly mimicked Trump’s own comments about Obamacare – comments which are patently misleading.  This proves once again the effectiveness of demagogic language (“Obamacare is a disaster!”) shamelessly applied to important policy questions that impact almost every American.

Obamacare is most definitely not imploding, but Trump and the GOP in Congress have convinced an awful lot of people that it is – simply by repeating the same falsehoods on a regular basis. Why does this matter?  It matters because the Senate may vote on its Obamacare repeal and replacement plan within the next couple of weeks.

The GOP’s Better Care Reconciliation Act would deprive 22 million Americans of health coverage over the next ten years and gut Medicaid, hitting the old and the sick unusually hard. As long as Republicans continue to justify repeal with false claims that Obamacare is in a “death spiral,” advocates for the most vulnerable members of our society must continue to call them out.

Both the New York Times and the Washington Post this week found it necessary to debunk misleading Republican claims about Obamacare and the Senate bill to replace it.  The Times entitled its piece, “Five Misleading Republican Claims About Health Care,” while the Post went with “Decoding the White House spin on Obamacare ‘failures.’”  The papers’ fact-checkers had plenty of material to work with. 

These and other analyses are crucial to understanding what’s really happening with Obamacare and the GOP repeal and replace legislation:

1) Obamacare is not “imploding” or in a “death spiral.”  Despite recent instability mostly induced by the Trump administration and Congress itself, Obamacare is hardly imploding.  A new study by the Kaiser Family Foundation suggests that Obamacare markets are, in fact, "stabilizing" and "regaining profitability."  The CBO forecasts that the Obamacare system will remain stable for the foreseeable future - if it is not further undermined. 

2) Premiums for Obamacare policies are not generally rising 200-300%.  Though a few states have unfortunately seen triple digit premium hikes, the National Conference of State Legislatures found that average premium increases nationwide were 25% this year.  Because some 84% of enrollees’ premiums are covered by Obamacare subsidies, few feel the effects of the increases.  Their net costs may even decrease.  

As the Post’s fact-checkers point out, “Average insurance premiums in the Obamacare marketplace now are about at the level predicted by the Congressional Budget Office for 2017 when it first evaluated the law in 2009.”  In other words, some premium hikes were predictable as the new marketplaces found their footing – and not likely to be repeated every year.

3) Insurers are not abandoning state insurance exchanges in droves.  The Post reports that an average of five insurers participated in each state’s marketplace in 2014, ranging from one to 16 companies per state. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average number of insurers in 2017 is 4.3, ranging from one to 15 companies per state.  Not a huge decline.  Still, “slightly more than 2 million people, mostly in rural areas, don’t have competitive plans to choose from and are seeing premium increases,” writes the Post’s Dana Milbank.  But again, many of those premium hikes are offset by Obamacare subsidies.

4) The Trump administration and Congress could have done a lot more to stabilize Obamacare; instead they undermined it.  Here’s how:  

*The administration balked at paying cost-sharing subsidies that would have relieved financial pressure on reluctant insurers.

*President Trump signed an executive order soon after taking office instructing federal agencies not to enforce the Obamacare mandate that all Americans have health insurance, discouraging participation in the exchanges.

*The administration ended public outreach efforts to encourage Americans to sign up for health care.

*In fact, President Obama and the Democrats in Congress asked Republicans to work with them to strengthen Obamacare during the    first six years after the law was passed, only to have the GOP Congress vote to repeal it some 60 times.   

5) The President and his allies in Congress have spooked the insurance markets.  They have sown tremendous uncertainty about Obamacare’s future with their attempts to repeal the law and harsh rhetoric, spooking insurance companies and potential customers.  The former chief marketing officer for HealthCare.gov estimated that Trump’s rhetoric alone has deterred nearly 500,000 people from signing up this year.

Furthermore, the Post reports that figures the White House uses to smear Obamacare are often based on comparisons of the insurance markets from before the law took effect and today.  Such apples-to-oranges comparisons are misleading and not useful.

Meanwhile, the Republicans have employed similar demagoguery to promote their own repeal and replace legislation.  The Times found several GOP claims about the Senate healthcare bill to be factually dubious, including assertions that the legislation does not “pull the rug from anyone currently covered by Obamacare” – and that the bill “reduces taxes on the middle class” when, in fact, the top 1% of earners reap most of the benefits.  The cruel truth is that some 22 million Americans would lose health coverage under the GOP bill over the next ten years, including 15 million Medicaid beneficiaries – many of whom are needy seniors who rely on the program to pay for long-term care.  We must not allow the clever manipulation of language by those who would destroy Obamacare to hurt so many millions. 

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Senate GOP's "Mean" Healthcare Bill Must be Defeated

Getting a look at the Senate Republican healthcare bill after weeks of secrecy is like peeking under a rock.  There’s a lot under there that you don’t really want to see – and would like to believe doesn’t really exist.  Unfortunately, the Senate version of the American Health Care Act is very real – and dangerously close to becoming law.

Prognosticators who said the House-passed bill would be “dead on arrival” in the Senate, or who predicted that the Senate would be a moderating influence on the legislation, were dead wrong.  Instead, Senate Republicans have clearly chosen to put political expediency above the health of our most vulnerable citizens.

In some ways, the Senate bill is slightly less onerous than the House version; in other ways it’s worse – especially for the old, the sick, and the poor.  In a press statement today, National Committee President Max Richtman calls the bill “unconscionably cruel.”

This is a lose-lose for seniors and the American people.  The biggest loss is that the AHCA ends the Medicaid program as we know it.  Astoundingly, the Senate bill makes even deeper cuts to Medicaid than the House did.  This is devastating news for today’s and tomorrow’s seniors suffering from Alzheimer’s, cancer, the after-effects of stroke and other serious conditions who depend on Medicaid to pay for long-term care.  Millions will lose Medicaid coverage over the next ten years.” - Max Richtman, President and CEO of NCPSSM

 

The Washington Post clearly explains why the Senate bill hurts Medicaid beneficiaries even more than the House version:

Medicaid would be funded by giving states a per capita amount or block grant, beginning in 2021. The amount would grow more slowly than in the House bill, meaning bigger spending cuts overall. - Washington Post, 6/22/17  

This is why the Senate healthcare bill is so hazardous for older Americans in several other ways:

*It still permits insurance companies to charge older Americans five times more than young adults. 

*The tax credits that replace Obamacare subsidies are still too meager to make up for net increases in older Americans’ premiums. 

*Though it forbids insurers from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions, the waivers of essential benefits mean older patients with chronic diseases like diabetes, cancer, or heart disease could see their premiums skyrocket. 

 *Like the House bill, the Senate legislation weakens Medicare by reducing the solvency of the Part A Trust Fund.

Only the young, healthy and wealthy will truly benefit from this bill, whose true purpose is not to facilitate health coverage, but to give a multi-billion dollar tax break to the rich and the pharmaceutical companies. Our family members and friends who cannot afford exorbitant premiums and out-of-pocket costs will suffer.  Some will doubtless go without healthcare altogether.  Their health will deteriorate, and when they arrive at the doorstep of Medicare, they may be in worse condition – which can increase the financial burden on Medicare, too. 

Make no mistake, if the bill passes the Senate and the House, President Trump will sign it into law. The National Committee has identified 11 GOP Senators who could be persuaded to stop the AHCA with sufficient public pressure.  As few as three Republican dissenters could kill this bill. Americans of conscience must demand that their Senators put people before party and defeat this heartless legislation before it’s too late.

 

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For the latest on Trumpcare and its devastating implications for seniors, watch “Behind the Headlines” on Facebook Live from Capitol Hill.

 

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