October 28, 2020, 12:30 pm News Staff -- The Academy voiced strong support for new legislation meant to relieve growing financial pressure — complicated further by COVID-19 — on primary care and pediatric patients, especially those enrolled in high-deductible health plans.
The Helping Families Access Pediatric Care Act of 2020 (H.R. 8573) would eliminate deductibles for outpatient pediatric care — a welcome move that would “increase access to critical services without the risk of significant impact on health insurance premiums,” said the AAFP, alongside the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association, in an Oct. 15 letter to the bill’s sponsor, U.S. Rep. Kim Schrier, D-Wash.
The legislation is timely. Well-child visits and outpatient mental health care for children during the pandemic have dropped by 44% compared to 2019 numbers — a decline accompanied by a bottoming-out of routine childhood vaccinations that could have lasting consequences.
The financial barriers addressed by H.R. 8573 “are increasing with the growth in enrollment in high-deductible health plans as a means to lower monthly premiums,” the letter said.
“Just like families without insurance, families with high deductibles or significant cost-sharing are more likely to delay the care they and their children need, resulting in worse health outcomes and a costlier encounter with the health system in the future,” the Academy and its co-signatories wrote.
“Without insurance or preventive care, children face higher hospital admission rates, especially related to asthma, diabetes, and vaccine-preventable diseases, as well as increased mortality rates and more severe illnesses requiring costlier services.”
The AAFP’s advocacy for H.R. 8573 echoes its support last year for the Primary Care Patient Protection Act of 2019 (S. 2793), which aimed to reduce patients’ burden by allowing two no-cost primary care visits a year for HDHP enrollees.
In that case as well, the Academy indicated that correctly prioritized preventive care must be vouchsafed for individuals and families, independent of any insurance plan’s economic limitations. At that time, pre-pandemic, Americans had already seen sharp increases in their health care coverage costs, driving many to take shelter in high-deductible plans that left them more vulnerable by discouraging comprehensive primary care.
Beyond addressing these harmful trends, the new legislation would be a step toward “ensuring that children can safely return to school and daycare,” the Oct. 15 letter said. With that in mind, “policymakers should be doing all they can do reduce barriers and increase appropriate utilization of these services.”