On Capitol Hill

AAFP, Other Physician Groups Press Senators to Rework Health Care Bill

July 03, 2017 11:33 am Michael Laff Washington, D.C. –

Continuing to turn up the heat, AAFP officers and other physician leaders visited Senate offices last week to voice their opposition to a proposed health care bill that could jeopardize health coverage for millions of patients.

Physician leaders from multiple organizations gather in Washington, D.C., to talk with senators about the need to preserve Americans' access to primary care. They are, from left: Fernando Stein, M.D., president, American Academy of Pediatrics; Renee Binder, M.D., past president, American Psychiatric Association; Jack Ende, M.D., president, American College of Physicians; John Meigs, M.D., president, AAFP; Michael Munger, M.D., president-elect, AAFP; Boyd Buser, D.O., president, American Osteopathic Association; and Haywood Brown, M.D., president, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

AAFP President-elect Michael Munger, M.D., of Overland Park, Kan., was among those visiting Senate offices June 28 as part of a coalition of frontline physician groups that oppose the Senate version of the American Health Care Act. Both the House and Senate versions of that legislation call for substantial cuts to Medicaid and would, if enacted, reduce basic insurance coverage guarantees that formed the backbone of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA).

"We are continuing to emphasize that no one should lose coverage and that cost-sharing subsidies should be made available to provide meaningful coverage," Munger told AAFP News after the day's events. "We are making sure that we preserve essential health benefits."

The coalition consists of the AAFP, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Physicians (ACP), the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the American Osteopathic Association and the American Psychiatric Association. Together, the groups represent more than 560,000 physicians and medical students.

Story Highlights
  • AAFP officers and other physician leaders visited Senate offices last week to voice their opposition to a health care bill that could jeopardize health coverage for millions of patients.
  • The foreboding specter of potential cuts to Medicaid resonated with every senator and their staff.
  • Despite Senate Republican leaders' attempts to swiftly bring the bill to a vote, feedback from the AAFP and other coalition members -- as well as that from other health organizations -- has helped put the brakes on quick action.  

Representatives from the physician groups met with Sens. Bill Cassidy, R-La., and Dean Heller, R-Nev. They also met with staff members for three other senators: Bob Corker, R-Tenn., Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. In addition, the groups hosted two media events to outline concerns about the Senate bill.

Members of the coalition had visited some of the same senate offices in May after the House passed its version of the bill, seeking to warn senators of the ill effects the legislation would have on patients.

"We will continue to speak out on behalf of our patients and our specialty," Munger declared after the June visit.

Each of the senators and their staff members listened closely to the physician groups' concerns, with some senators saying they shared the same concerns about loss of insurance coverage and higher out-of-pocket costs, according to Munger. The foreboding specter of potential cuts to Medicaid also resonated with every senator and their staff. Alaska, for example, relies heavily on Medicaid to provide basic health care coverage in an environment where access is limited and costs are already high.

"That was the key point" made when speaking with each of the senators, Munger said, "the effect that loss of coverage has on their state and their constituents."

"We'd like them to set this bill aside and start over."  

AAFP President-elect Michael Munger, M.D., speaks with Sen. Margaret Hassan, D-N.H., before a press event held to register physicians' opposition to a Senate bill that would gut patients' health coverage protections.

During one press conference, Sens. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Margaret Hassan, D-N.H., spoke forcefully against the proposed Senate bill. Stabenow said she would willingly co-operate on legislation to reduce prescription medication costs or out-of-pocket costs but said the current bill is simply cutting Medicaid to pay for tax cuts for upper-income earners.

"None of this relates to Medicaid," Stabenow said of the proposed bill. "States are saving money because people are staying out of the hospital. Ninety-seven percent of children in Michigan can now see a doctor."

Hassan emphasized that the proposed legislation would lead to higher costs for seniors, while women who received valuable care before or during pregnancy through Medicaid would also be left vulnerable.

"We know the ACA is not perfect," she said, "but Trumpcare is not the answer. Please do not stop opposing this bill."

Tell Your Senators What You Think

The AAFP's Speak Out tool makes it easy for members to tell their senators to come up with bipartisan solutions to improve the nation's health care system.
 

In a media conference call after the visits concluded, the physician group leaders reiterated their opposition to the bill. One coalition representative specifically warned of the consequences Medicaid cuts would likely have on women's health, especially as it relates to prenatal care.

"Politicians have no place in the exam room," ACOG President Haywood Brown, M.D., said during the call. "We cannot let Congress turn back the clock on women's health."

Despite Senate Republican leaders' attempts to swiftly bring the bill to a vote, feedback from the AAFP and other coalition members -- as well as that from other health organizations -- has helped put the brakes on quick action. Each coalition group has pledged to make repeated visits to Capitol Hill to press against the bills.

"We're not limited to this one-and-done visit," declared ACP President Jack Ende, M.D., during the call. "We are ready to come back."

Related AAFP News Coverage
After House Vote on AHCA, AAFP Turns to Senate for Fix
(5/4/2017)

AAFP, Coalition Warn Congress of Flaws in AHCA Compromises
(4/28/2017)