Two Chattanooga area doctors warn against Obamacare repeal effort

Two Chattanooga area doctors warn against Obamacare repeal effort

May 4th, 2017 by Steve Johnson in Local Regional News

Dr. Danielle Mitchell is photographed in her North Access Road office at the Chattanooga Sports Institute Center for Health on Thursday, Aug. 20, 2015, in Chattanooga, Tenn. A critic of insurance companies, she has set up a membership model for patients.

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.

Dr. Danielle Mitchell is a sports medicine specialist in Chattanooga who has completed several arduous Ironman competitions.

She felt she was in peak physical condition, so she was stunned to find out two years ago she had a vascular problem for which the only cure might be to amputate one of her legs.

Because she had health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, she could afford an expensive medical procedure that saved her leg, and perhaps her life.

But now Mitchell is worried changes in the ACA could leave her unable to get coverage for any future complications.

While the details of the American Health Care Act, the legislation to repeal and replace the ACA, change daily, one recent draft would allow insurance companies to charge people such as Mitchell, who are sicker or have a pre-existing problem, more for their coverage.

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"In my private practice, 90 percent suffer from a pre-existing condition," Mitchell said at a news conference she and fellow doctor Brent Morris called Wednesday morning at her offices in Hixson. "The Affordable Care Act set out to protect people so the insurance companies and private industry couldn't charge more based on your medical history, and now we are in a position of having it stripped from us."

Mitchell and Morris, a retired pediatrician who was one of the managers of the intensive care unit at Erlanger's T.C. Thompson Children's Hospital, said they were particularly concerned about plans to allow states to set up high-risk pools to handle people with pre-existing conditions.

With high-risk pools, insurance companies are allowed to sort the people they insure into groups — one for people with no apparent medical problems, who would pay lower premiums and deductibles, and one for people with problems. Insurers would be allowed to charge high-risk group members much higher rates or cap the maximum payout amount for medical bills.

State governments would contribute to a fund to cover some of the costs and lower the bills. Morris said he worried states won't put in enough money to fund the pools properly.

"Prior to the inception of the ACA, we had a system where high-risk pools were enacted and they did not work," Morris said. "We're looking at going back to a system that will devastate people financially."

Morris warned that some ACA changes will affect everyone with health insurance. The ACA requires every health insurance policy to cover 10 basics, including free preventive examinations and emergency and outpatient care.

Proposed changes would allow insurers to drop some of that coverage to lower premiums and deductibles.

"We're being thrown into the clutches of the insurance companies at the state level, where they can lobby more effectively to get the things they want so they can maintain their profitability," he said.

The two doctors called on Tennessee Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker and Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, whose district includes Chattanooga, to state whether they are supporting the proposed AHCA legislation.

Alexander said he would review the House bill if and when it passes. He said his focus will be to ensure that those with pre-existing conditions have access to coverage, that premiums be lowered, and to "rescue" those who may be trapped on the ACA exchanges with "few or limited options" for health care.

Corker said once a bill is received from the House, he would make appropriate changes "to ensure we are putting in place health care policy that works better for the American people."

Fleischmann's office did not respond in time for the newspaper's deadline.

Contact staff writer Steve Johnson at 423-757-6673, sjohnson@timesfreepress.com, on Twitter @stevejohnsonTFP, and on Facebook, www.face book.com/noogahealth.


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