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Tuesday Jan 03, 2017

AAFP Urges Congress to Uphold Health Care Coverage Expansion

Happy New Year!  

I hope each of you had a nice and restful holiday and were able to spend time with family and friends. With the holidays behind us, it's time to turn our attention to Washington, D.C. and what will certainly be a busy first few months of legislative activity.

This week, the 115th Congress will convene and begin consideration of legislation that, if approved, would set in motion a series of events that could undermine the significant improvements that have been made in our health care system during the past decade. Specifically, in danger are the gains we have made in reducing the number of uninsured children and non-Medicare eligible adults, as well as a number of important insurance reforms that protect individuals in all insurance markets from discrimination based on age, race, gender, health condition, and socio-economic status.

The AAFP has long advocated for health care coverage for all Americans. Our policy, which dates back to 1989, clearly states that our goal is, "to provide health care coverage to everyone in the United States through a primary care based system built on the patient-centered medical home."

During the past two decades, the AAFP has worked in a bipartisan manner to identify and implement policies that have moved us closer to this laudable goal. The enactment of the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) in 1997 provided health care coverage to millions of previously uninsured children. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), enacted in 2010, built on the progress made through CHIP and extended access to affordable health care coverage for millions of previously uninsured, non-Medicare eligible adults and additional children not previously eligible for CHIP coverage. Throughout these reforms, we worked to solidify the important role of primary care and the value of a longitudinal relationship with a family physician. In 2015, our delivery system and payment reform efforts were captured, in part, through the bipartisan policies contained in the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 (MACRA).

Each of these steps was a result of the AAFP's consistent pursuit of our policies and a never wavering commitment to patients and their family physicians. We still have work to do, but we should recognize that we have made substantial progress towards our goal of providing health care coverage to everyone.

According to Gallup(www.gallup.com), the number of uninsured is at a historic low of 11 percent. This is an incredible statistic when you consider that less than a decade ago, our uninsured rate was nearing 17 percent with nearly 50 million people uninsured. The greatest gains in health care coverage have occurred among our most vulnerable populations and young adults. The uninsured rate among those making less than $36,000 annually has declined from 30.7 percent to 20.4 percent. The uninsured rates for those between 18 and 25 years of age has decreased from 23.5 percent to 14.9 percent, and the uninsured rates for those between 26 and 34 years of age has decreased from 28.2 percent to 19.4 percent. 

These decreases in the number of uninsured are significant and reflect the consequential provisions enacted into law. These accomplishments are now under scrutiny, if not outright attack. Now is the time to accelerate our efforts on reducing the number of uninsured, not roll them back. 

The AAFP's policies and advocacy on these issues moving forward are guided by a standard that has been proven accurate and factual the world over: The two primary factors that are most indicative of better health and more efficient spending on health care are continuous health care coverage and a usual source of care, normally through a primary care physician.

In the weeks ahead we will be aggressively  defending and advancing our priorities with the House and Senate. There is not room in this space to outline each of the AAFP's policy priorities, but I do want to stress six key objectives:

  • Insured individuals should not become uninsured as a result of any legislative or administrative short-term actions or inactions. Individuals who have already secured health care coverage should retain that coverage, including those who obtained coverage as a result of their state's expansion of its Medicaid program. Furthermore, individuals should be protected from loss of coverage that could result from inactions that result in a destabilizing of the individual and small-group market.
  • Premium assistance and cost-sharing reduction subsidies aimed at assisting qualifying individuals with the purchase of health care coverage and/or paying their deductibles and co-pays should be preserved.
  • There should be a viable and equitable safety net health care program for low-income individuals including those enrolled in Medicaid and CHIP. The basic benefits of the safety net should be universal, meaning beneficiaries are guaranteed health care coverage that is equitable to such coverage in any of the other states. We support continuation of incentives for additional states to expand Medicaid and those that have expanded to keep it.
  • Policies prohibiting health insurers from imposing annual and lifetime caps on benefits should be retained and made applicable to all insurers, public and private.
  • Insurance reforms that prevent discrimination against individuals in the insurance market must be preserved. Specifically, individuals should not be denied health care coverage, charged higher premiums, or have their coverage canceled based on a current or pre-existing health care condition, color, national origin, sex, age, disability, family history, race, gender, or income. We particularly call for continuation of protections that ensure that women are not charged higher premiums than men because of gender.
  • All health insurance products should be required to cover evidence-based essential benefits including coverage, at no out-of-pockets cost to insured persons, to those preventive care and vaccines identified by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and other designated evidence-based assessment entities.

Wonk Hard -- The Process
I am not 100 percent certain about the process, but here is how we think things will play out during the next few weeks or months.

  • This week, the Senate will consider a budget resolution for fiscal year 2017. The budget resolution will contain so-called "reconciliation instructions" that will request that the Finance and Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committees identify a set amount of savings in their areas of jurisdiction (in this case, the ACA). The budget resolution requires 50 hours of debate in the Senate, so final passage would occur on or around Jan. 6.
  • Upon approval by the Senate, the House will consider the Senate-approved budget resolution. The House version of the legislation will be identical with the exception that it will instruct the Ways and Means, Energy and Commerce, and Education and Workforce Committees to identify savings in their areas of jurisdiction (again, in this case, the ACA).
  • Upon approval of the budget resolution by both chambers, the committees will begin drafting legislation aimed at repealing or reforming major portions of the ACA.
  • The product produced by the committees will then be assembled by the Budget Committee in the House and prepared for consideration by the full House. The legislation would impact revenues (taxes), so it must originate in the House.
  • Assuming the House approves the legislation, it would then be sent to the Senate for consideration. The legislation would be considered under reconciliation, so passage in the Senate only requires 51 votes. Republicans will hold 52 seats in the 115th Congress.
  • If the Senate approves the House-passed bill, the legislation would go to the president for enactment into law. If the Senate alters the House-passed bill, it must return to the House for passage prior to being sent to the president.
  • It is important to note that this is a long and complicated process. Getting a bill through five committees and two chambers will not be an easy task. Factor in the issue and the impact it will have on millions of people, and the level of complexity increases significantly.

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Stephanie Quinn, AAFP Senior Vice President of Advocacy, Practice Advancement and Policy.

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The opinions and views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the opinions and views of the American Academy of Family Physicians. This blog is not intended to provide medical, financial, or legal advice. All comments are moderated and will be removed if they violate our Terms of Use.