NJHA, AARP voice concern ahead of House vote on American Health Care Act
COLLINGSWOOD, NJ — New Jersey residents and a panel of health care professionals and advocates voiced their concerns about the fate of the Affordable Care Act on Thursday at a community event organized by Congressman Donald Norcross (D).
In the midst of the event, Norcross informed attendees via Skype that the scheduled House vote on the Republican health care plan was canceled, and said he expected the vote to occur on Friday.
During the remainder of the meeting, the panel and audience of about 100 local citizens expressed virtually unanimous opposition to the American Health Care Act (AHCA), which the Congressional Budget Office reported would increase the number of uninsured Americans, cut Medicaid, increase premiums and cut taxes for wealthy individuals and corporations.
Opposition from health care
As Healio.com has reported, numerous physician and patient advocacy groups have already opposed the AHCA, including the AMA, the ACP, the APA, the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, the American Diabetes Association, and 100 HIV/AIDS organizations. This panel — including representatives from the New Jersey Hospital Association (NJHA), New Jersey Citizen Action, the Center for Family Services and New Jersey AARP — was similarly united in their opposition.
“It is rare to have a panel of individuals who represent doctors, hospitals, nurses, patient advocates, those who advocate for the elderly, all coming together and saying, ‘This is a really bad plan,’” Norcross said. “This plan is so bad, even [President Donald Trump] won’t put his name on it.”
Among the panel members was Jackie Cornell, senior director of federal relations and regulatory affairs at the NJHA, and previous regional director for U.S. Department of HHS under President Barack Obama, who agreed there is a “unique, across-the-board” opposition to the AHCA “because of how many ways it can undermine the health care system.”
A major concern of the NJHA is the CBO’s estimate that 14 million people would lose coverage in the first year followed by 24 million in the next decade, Cornell said. The association is also worried about what the bill would do to the Medicaid program, “which really doesn’t have a lot to do with the ACA, but has somehow gotten smashed into this ACA repeal bill.”
While ACA plans would theoretically disappear instantaneously, it is still uncertain when funding for Medicaid expansion populations would run out, but it could be as early as 2018, she said. Further, she said the AHCA would turn Medicaid into a per capita cap program, which the NJHA also opposes.
“There’s really grave concern about what would happen if individuals were to exceed that cap. ... The deficit would fall to the state, and if the state couldn’t absorb it, then the deficit would fall to the providers,” she said.
Another panelist, Evelyn Liebman, associate state director for New Jersey AARP, said that AARP is doing everything it can to stop the AHCA, as it would have significant negative effects for older Americans.
“For older Americans the ACA has been working,” she said. “The number of 50- to 64-year-old Americans who are uninsured now in this country has dropped by half since the ACA was passed, and what the Republican bill in congress would do would be to turn back the clock terribly on all that progress.”
Liebman said the AARP is concerned that the AHCA would increase premiums and out-of-pocket costs for older Americans, would do nothing to reduce the costs of prescription drugs, and would impose an “age tax” allowing insurance companies to charge people aged older than 50 years up to five-times what they charge others, all while giving $200 billion in tax breaks to big drug, insurance and medical device companies.
The bill would also weaken Medicare, “leaving the door open for benefit cuts and a Medicare voucher program, which AARP is adamantly opposed to,” she said. “We believe it would hasten the insolvency of Medicare by at least 4 years and diminish its ability to pay for services.”
After learning that the scheduled vote had been delayed, ostensibly because the Republican leaders were unable to secure the votes needed to pass it, an attendee expressed her displeasure at the delay, suggesting that more concessions may be given to the ultraconservative Freedom Caucus before voting finally occurs. This group involves about three dozen representatives whose major demand is that the AHCA must repeal more of the ACA’s mandate that insurance companies cover certain “essential health benefits.”
Norcross agreed. “It’s what we don’t know that’s starting to concern us,” he said. “They’re capitulating to the Freedom Caucus, [who are] leading the charge on going backward.”
President Trump has since issued an ultimatum to House Republicans that the vote must occur on Friday or else the ACA would remain in place. – by Adam Leitenberger