Docs, insurers condemn latest ‘repeal and replace’ plan


Medical societies and insurers are voicing their opposition to legislation that would alter provisions of the Affordable Care Act and fundamentally change how Medicaid is funded.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), features a number of provisions long sought by the GOP, including the repeal of the individual and employer mandates, repeal of individual tax credits as of 2020, and repeal of the medical device tax. The bill also would promote the use of health savings accounts and turn Medicaid funding into a block grant program, allowing states to implement policies such as work requirements.

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The bill would also end cost-sharing reduction payments to insurers at the end of 2019. Under the proposal, states will have the ability to seek waivers to alter “essential health benefits” and to allow for individuals with preexisting health conditions to be charged higher premiums. If passed, the American Gastroenterological Association is concerned that millions of patients could lose health care coverage and basic protections for pre-existing conditions and lifetime expenditure caps.

James L. Madara, MD, CEO of the American Medical Association, told congressional leaders in a Sept. 19 letter that the bill would violate the precept of “first do no harm” and results in millions of Americans losing their health coverage. Additionally, it would destabilize health insurance markets and decrease access to affordable coverage.

“We are also concerned that the proposal would convert the Medicaid program into a system that limits federal support to care for needy patients to an insufficient predetermined formula based on per capita caps,” Dr. Madara continued. “Per capita caps fail to take into account unanticipated costs of new medical innovations or the fiscal impact of public health epidemics, such as the crisis of opioid abuse currently ravaging our nation. In addition, the amendment does not take steps toward coverage and access for all Americans, and while insurers are still required to offer coverage to patients with preexisting conditions, allowing states to get waivers to vary premiums based on health status would allow insurers to charge unaffordable premiums based on those preexisting conditions. Also, waivers of essential health benefits will mean patients may not have access to coverage for services pertinent to treating their conditions.”

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists called the bill an “assault on women’s health.” The bill would end guaranteed insurance coverage of maternity care and women’s health preventive services, including cancer screenings and contraception, ACOG president Haywood Brown, MD, said in a statement.

Dr. Brown added that the bill “jeopardizes access to care for women with high-risk and expensive pregnancies, such as those with Zika virus, opioid use disorder, and preeclampsia. It further obstructs safety net patients’ access to care by forbidding Planned Parenthood’s participation in the Medicaid program.”

AGA is also concerned that there are no guarantees that states have to provide essential benefits, patients that gained coverage through the ACA would lose that coverage, and most importantly, patients with pre-existing conditions have no guarantee that they will continue to receive affordable coverage.

Doctors aren’t the only ones objecting to the GOP legislation. America’s Health Insurance Plans president and CEO Marilyn Tavenner said in a Sept. 20 letter to Congress that the bill would further destabilize the individual health insurance market.

The bill’s road to passage is far from certain. Once again, the GOP is aiming to use the budget reconciliation process to pass this legislation, which means it needs only a simple majority to pass (a minimum of 50 votes with Vice President Mike Pence offering the tiebreaker if the bill cannot get 51 votes). But even getting to 50 votes is going to be a challenge as the last attempt to pass similar repeal and replace language failed when Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) voted that package down. Given the similar features, Sen. Collins and Sen. Murkowski may still oppose the bill, while Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has been vocal about his displeasure with the bill and other GOP senators are getting pressure from their state governors to oppose the bill.

The Senate Finance Committee has scheduled a Sept. 25 hearing to consider the bill, but as of press time, no witnesses have been announced, and the bill likely will not follow the regular order of allowing for amendments by committee members prior to its introduction on the Senate floor later that week.

Based on current budget rules, the bill must be passed by Sept. 30 in order for the budget reconciliation process to be used and to allow for passage with a simple majority. If the Senate is able to pass the bill, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) has said he will bring it up in the House. President Trump has indicated he will sign it into law if it reaches his desk.


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