Congressional Republican leaders and the White House are scrambling to salvage the proposed replacement to the Affordable Care Act following a report from the Congressional Budget Office this week that found 14 million people would lose health insurance next year, and 24 million after 10 years. Vermont’s at-large Democratic Congressman Peter Welch held a conference call Wednesday with Vermont hospital executives to discuss the potential impact of the GOP’s American Health Care Act.
Following the release of the CBO analysis Monday afternoon, White House officials and House leaders faced harsh criticism from health care advocates, Democrats and even some conservatives and moderate Republicans over the Obamacare replacement bill, which the Republicans have named the American Health Care Act. During his conference call Wednesday Vermont Congressman Peter Welch, who sits on the Energy and Commerce Committee, which is reviewing the bill, noted it’s not just the provisions of the legislation that are problematic. “The committees that acted on this bill literally had no idea what was in this bill pretty much until the moment we started to consider it. This is an unprecedented breach of any kind of legislative process. So there was literally no hearings in that committee. There were no witnesses. And we had to act on something that has an impact on millions of Americans and on a sector of the economy that’s about 18 percent of the economy.”
Under the GOP plan, tax credits would increase for younger people and decrease for the elderly. It encourages Health Savings Accounts, modifies Medicaid’s funding system and eliminates the Affordable Care Act’s individual and employer mandates.
Welch was joined by executives of Vermont’s largest health care centers. University of Vermont Medical Center President and CEO John Brumstead is also a practicing physician. He says if the government creates financial barriers such as the proposed age rating, people will not seek care. “People forego necessary preventative care. They really do not show for treatment until the disease process has progressed. In financial terms this means that they have to access care that is much more expensive than if it happened early on. But that’s really secondary to the fact that they aren’t going to get the care that they need early in the process and people are going to suffer.”
Rutland Regional Medical Center President and CEO Tom Heubner says that while there aren’t state-by-state estimates, he believes a large number of Vermonters will lose coverage if the GOP plan passes as proposed. “My own belief is that we will see Vermont drop from nearly 98 percent of our population being covered to somewhere between 85 and 90 percent. If we drop the 10 percent that’s 64-65 thousand people in Vermont who’ll lose their coverage. But the impact isn’t just on those say 64-65 thousand people in Vermont. It’s really an impact on every Vermonter because that loss of funding means that we will have to either cut programs or increase prices to everybody else to offset that.”
Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems CEO Jeff Tieman says the ACA has helped hospitals reduce uncompensated care and has been a solid foundation for the health care system. “It’s a foundation to build on not one to take down because of what I really view as a rapidly fading political imperative. And I’ll be the first person to say that it’s not perfect and we can improve it rather than decimate and abandon it, which is what’s being talked about now. I think that’s a really big mistake. It puts Medicaid at risk, this American Health Care Act, would harm low income and vulnerable people here in Vermont including those with disabilities, pregnant women, so many others. And really importantly it introduces new uncertainty into the provider and insurance market at a time when we’re making really pretty good progress on both coverage cost and payment reform.”
The House Budget Committee began debating the Republican health care bill Thursday morning.