Tennessee hospitals, health care advocates oppose new Senate health bill

Tennessee hospitals, health care advocates oppose new Senate health bill

July 14th, 2017 by Judy Walton in Politics State

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The Tennessee Hospital Association and the patient advocate group Alliance for Healthcare Security say the latest version of the Senate health care plan still has fatal flaws.

In a news release, hospital association president Craig Becker said the modified version of the Better Care Reconciliation Act released Thursday "shows some improvement, [but] still does not have the best interests of Tennesseans at heart nor the hospitals that serve them."

Becker cited "dramatic long-term cuts and structural changes" to federal Medicaid funding and Medicare reimbursements to doctors, as well as "relaxed" benefit requirements for insurance plans.

The modified bill would not require insurers to cover the 10 essential health benefits required under the Affordable Care Act. Limiting benefits, he said, "would undoubtedly throw the insurance marketplace into even greater turmoil and increase premiums for older, sicker Tennesseans."

"We appreciate the efforts in the Senate to soften the blow of the BCRA, but these latest changes still fail to fully address the real challenges facing the individual insurance market. It also continues to take on the daunting and unrelated issue of Medicaid reform, which would be better dealt with in a separate legislative process," Becker said.

"Now is the time to focus on meaningful reform of the ACA and stabilization of the insurance market, and we continue our commitment to working with Tennessee's senators on such a solution."

On Friday, Vice President Mike Pence urged governors of more than two dozen states to support the reform bill, saying President Donald Trump believes this is the "right bill at the right time to begin the end of Obamacare," The Asssociated Press reported.

"The president said he wanted a health care system that in his words is far less expensive and far better," Pence said at a gathering of the National Governors Association. "We believe the Senate health care bill begins to make the president's vision a reality."

Lenda Sherrell, with the Alliance for Healthcare Security, said the revised Senate bill "still cuts coverage for tens of millions, raises premiums and costs for almost everyone and eliminates consumer protections that people depend on, all to pay for billions of dollars in tax cuts to big insurance and pharmaceutical companies and the wealthy.

"No amount of tinkering at the margins can fix this bill. Yet, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is planning a vote on the 'motion to proceed,' the first key vote on this disastrous bill, as soon as next Tuesday," Sherrell said in a news release.

Tennessee's Republican U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker have said they will vote in favor of the motion to proceed.

Alexander said in a statement Thursday he is reviewing the bill, and noted it is subject to "virtually unlimited amendments" on the Senate floor next week.

"My goals for this bill have not changed since I laid them out in May: 1) rescuing the thousands of Tennesseans and millions of Americans who will be trapped in collapsing Affordable Care Act exchanges with few or even zero options for health insurance in 2018 unless Congress acts; 2) lowering premium costs, which have increased under the ACA law; 3) gradually giving states more flexibility on the Medicaid program, but do this in a way that does not pull the rug out from under people who rely on Medicaid; and 4) making sure those with pre-existing conditions have access to insurance."

In his own statement, Corker said: "I very much appreciate the way Senate leadership has taken input as they worked to craft this legislation.

"As we debate the bill next week, every senator — on both sides of the aisle — will have the opportunity to offer amendments and have their voice heard. I am encouraged by the direction of the bill and am hopeful the final product will be one that works better for the American people than what is in place today."

Sherrell noted the same changes as Becker and added details. She said ending Medicaid expansion and cutting $772 billion from the program over a decade will mean "millions of people with disabilities, seniors in nursing homes and those dealing with opioid use disorders and other vulnerable populations who rely on Medicaid will have their coverage taken away."

She also noted that under the revised Senate bill, 22 million people will lose coverage, including 634,600 in Tennessee, and premiums and out-of-pocket costs will soar.

Sherrell said people with pre-existing conditions will be priced out of the individual market or be unable to obtain coverage for their illnesses. The "age tax" in the bill allows insurers to charge senior citizens up to five times as much as younger people for the same coverage, and the bill also defunds Planned Parenthood, which provides health services for 2.4 million low-income people each year.

Sherrell said the revised bill includes $457 billion in tax breaks to insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies and the wealthy in the form of so-called health savings accounts, "which are tax shelters for the wealthy to avoid paying taxes."

And, finally, she said, a little-noticed part of the bill "added a provision to exempt Members of Congress from some of the most harmful parts of their own bill."

She called the provision a "last-minute attempt by Senate Republicans to protect themselves — while hurting everyone else. The only group of people whose health care is protected under the latest version of repeal is Members of Congress, themselves."

Contact Judy Walton at jwalton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6416.