State legislators and advocates argue against Medicaid cuts contemplated in the U.S. Senate’s 2017 health-care legislation.
Medicaid cuts proposed under the Better Care Reconciliation Act would reduce access to health care in Arizona and hurt the local economy, several state lawmakers, health-care advocates and business leaders warned Thursday.
Republicans in the U.S. Senate on Thursday released an updated version of their health-care legislation, which includes a proposal to cut Medicaid funding and roll back Medicaid coverage expansion under “Obamacare.”
State Reps. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, and Michelle Udall, R-Mesa, members of the House Health Committee, spoke out against the measure at a news conference at Phoenix Children’s Hospital on Thursday. The Republican-led U.S. Senate plan would repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, former President Barack Obama’s signature health-care law.
“This legislation threatens to return us back to the bad old days of enrollment freezes, when uninsured patients flood our emergency rooms and the cost to care for them is shifted to the hospitals and the taxpayers,” Carter said. “Worst of all, it puts the health care of 400,000 Arizonans in jeopardy as the federal support for Medicaid is reduced.”
Medicaid coverage for childless adults in Arizona was last frozen in 2011 in the midst of the recession. Carter said she doesn’t want to repeat the past.
“The human toll of those Medicaid freezes were real, they were heartbreaking, and I hope we do not have to do that again,” she said.
The Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state’s Medicaid system commonly known as AHCCCS, has projected the impact of funding cuts to Arizona at more than $7 billion in the next decade.
AHCCCS estimates 29,000 people fighting cancer, 11,000 people with serious mental illnesses and 16,000 people fighting opioid addiction would be left without coverage.
Carter said she supports repealing Obamacare, but argued Medicaid funding should be a separate issue from replacing the legislation.
“Medicaid is not Obamacare,” Carter said. “We’ve had Medicaid in Arizona for 35 years. Our program is a model nationally, of reform and innovation. The Arizona Medicaid system is working, and we should protect it because we know from experience what will happen if we don’t.”
Republican leaders unveiled a new health care bill in their effort to deliver on promises to repeal and replace “Obamacare.” They cannot spare losing many GOP votes as the party’s own divisions put its top campaign pledge in serious jeopardy. (July 13)
Doctor: Kids would be among most harmed
The lawmakers were joined by Dr. Jared Muenzer, a pediatric emergency-medicine doctor and Phoenix Children’s Medical Group executive; Jennifer Mellor, vice president of economic development for the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce; and veterans health-care advocate Jon Altmann of the Association of the U.S. Navy.
Muenzer said children would be among those most harmed by a reduction in federal Medicaid funding.
“Medicaid is a critical program for not only low-income children, but it’s a program that subsidizes care for the sickest kids in need of very costly care, even if they have commercial insurance,” Muenzer said. “In Arizona, 636,000 children rely on Medicaid for their coverage. That’s more than 50 percent of our state’s children.”
More than half of the children being treated at Phoenix Children’s Hospital are on Medicaid, Muenzer said.
“From birth defects to cancer, from heart transplants to disability, PCH provides care for the most complex and most rare medical conditions,” Muenzer said. “These are the kids that often require very expensive and long-term treatment to improve their health — treatment that is not always covered by commercial insurance.”
Mellor said uncertainty over the future of health care in Arizona has taken a toll on the economy.
“These concerns over rising costs and changing regulations are causing businesses to pause, to rethink hiring decisions and rethink expansion plans, which only impedes economic growth in our community,” Mellor said.
Health care is a driving force in Arizona’s economy, with three of the state’s top 25 employers in the health-care sector. It has created 60,000 jobs and contributed an estimated $8 million to the economy, according to Mellor.
Altmann said he was concerned that some veterans would be left without care.
“Many veterans are not eligible for VA care, or they live too far from VA facilities. Or of course, the veteran’s spouses or children don’t qualify for VA care,” Altmann said. “For these veterans and their families, Medicaid has been a vital safety net.”
The bill awaits a vote in the Senate. If passed, it would need to be reconciled with the American Health Care Act passed by the U.S. House on May 4 before making its way to President Donald Trump’s desk.
In a high-stakes bid for conservative support, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has agreed to demands from Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas to allow insurers to sell low-cost, skimpier plans as part of a new health care bill.
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