Dem leaders push for quick Graham-Cassidy CBO assessment; hearing scheduled

Democrats in both the House and Senate reacted quickly to the Graham-Cassidy legislation in requesting a full assessment from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). The office stated that it is working on a preliminary assessment for the week of September 25, 2017, as early as possible. However, the CBO warned that point estimates on several matters will be unavailable for at least a number of weeks.

Graham-Cassidy legislation

Offered as an amendment to the American Health Care Act (AHCA) (H.R. 1628), the proposal would give more control to states over meeting their residents’ health care needs. The legislation would repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148) and fund a block grant program through the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) instead (see Sanders’ Medicare-for-all, Graham-Cassidy’s block grant legislation introduced in Senate, September 14, 2017).

Finance hearing

The Senate Finance Committee will conduct a hearing on the Graham-Cassidy amendment on September 25, 2017. Committee Chair Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) announced the hearing, stating that it would allow members on both sides of the issue to better understand policy. In light of the Finance Committee’s hearing announcement, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis), chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, has chosen to cancel his committee hearing.

CBO request and response

According to Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif), “Republicans are reportedly hoping to rush to a vote with only a scant budget assessment.” The letter to the CBO requested information on loss of coverage, premium and out-of-pocket cost increases, effect on those with pre-existing conditions, Medicaid cuts, marketplace stability, and state reform timelines. The CBO will be unable to provide estimates on the effects on the deficit, coverage, or costs in its preliminary assessment.

AMA chimes in 

Ahead of a CBO report, the American Medical Association (AMA) believes that the bill would destabilize markets and cause millions to lose coverage. The association reached out to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to oppose the amendment and all legislation that would jeopardize coverage. The AMA holds the position that any health reform proposals should ensure that those currently insured are able to maintain their coverage, and expressed its concerned that the conversion of the Medicaid program would limit federal support for needy patients.

Senate urged not to proceed with BCRA by civil and human rights groups

One hundred sixty six civil and human rights organizations including The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the National Health Law Program, and the National Partnership for Women & Families are urging senators to oppose the motion to proceed on the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) (H. R. 1628). The organizations sent a letter to senators on July 24, 2017, expressing their concern that the BCRA will “eliminate affordable quality health care for millions of Americans.” Specifically, the organizations said that the BCRA would gut the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148) and slash federal funding as well as transform Medicaid [funding] into a block grant or per capita cap; and eliminate Medicaid expansion (see ACA sec. 2001 and sec. 1201 of the Health Care Education and Reconciliation Act of 2010 (HCERA) (P.L. 111-152). In addition, the organizations pressed senators to support the Parliamentarian’s ruling excluding the defunding of Planned Parenthood from the bill.

The Senate’s lack of transparency

The organizations noted that they were “seriously concerned about the lack of transparency of the discussions’ that lead up to the introduction of the BCRA and “the rush to vote on the bill without adequate time for analysis, hearings, and a discussion of a CBO [Congressional Budget Office] score.” The organizations stressed that such discussions, would allow the public to better understand the proposed legislation and participate in a discussion of their access to health care.

The impact of the BCRA

The organizations identified the issues that arise from the BCRA provisions that the organizations believe would have a serious impact on the communities that they represent including low-income families and people of color. These issues include:

  • The 15 million people that would lose their Medicaid coverage by 2026 under the revised version of the BCRA, as estimated by the CBO.
  • The repeal of Medicaid expansion, which will disproportionately affect the communities including Latinos, African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders who have seen the largest gains in coverage under the ACA, and women.
  • The proposed cuts that could vastly reduce access to needed health care, reduction in needed services, increased medical debt, and persistent racial disparities in mortality rates.
  • The possible reduction in home and community-based services, which are cost-effective and keep individuals out of nursing homes and institutions.
  • The imposition of a work requirement as a condition of eligibility, which fails to further purpose of providing health care and undermines the objective.
  • The defunding of Planned Parenthood that would prevent more than half of its patients from getting affordable preventive care, including birth control, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, breast and cervical cancer screenings, and well-women exams.

Vanita Gupta, president and chief operating officer of The Leadership Conference noted that the letter reflects the widespread concerns of people, especially people of color, women, and low-income families, who currently “receive life-saving coverage because of the Affordable Care Act and the expanded Medicaid coverage” but will lose their access to quality affordable health care and will have higher health care costs “if the Republicans succeed.”

How the AHCA directly impacts significant parts of the ACA

Six weeks after pulling the American Health Care Act (AHCA) (H.R. 1628) from consideration, the House of Representatives passed an amended version of the bill on May 4, 2017, by a vote of 217 to 213. The legislation makes significant changes to some parts of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148), in particular repealing the employer and individual mandates; scaling back Medicaid expansion; and repealing many of the taxes included in the ACA. The House also passed H.R. 2192, which would eliminate provisions that exempt members of Congress and congressional staff from state waiver provisions, in response to criticisms that the AHCA would affect all Americans except those voting on the bill (see The AHCA strikes back, Health Law Daily, May 4, 2017).

The Senate is now considering the legislation, and is likely to make substantial changes to the AHCA, or even start from scratch on new legislation. Moderate Republican senators in particular are concerned about the changes to Medicaid coverage that roll back the ACA’s expansion of the program.

This White Paper will compare provisions of the AHCA with the ACA. One thing to note at the outset is that the ACA as enacted in March 2010 included 10 titles, while the AHCA makes significant changes to only three of the titles. Much of the ACA, especially related to the Medicare program and the training of various types of medical practitioners, therefore, would remain intact if the AHCA passes in its current form.

In addition, the Trump Administration has stated more than once that it sees the rollback of the ACA as occurring in three stages—(1) legislation to repeal or change ACA provisions that would allow the Senate to pass a bill with a bare majority under the budget reconciliation process; (2) administrative actions to provide patients with additional insurance options and give states more flexibility in Medicaid spending, and (3) legislation on Trump’s other priorities including sale of health insurance across state lines and medical tort reform (see Is the American Health Care Act a ‘critical first step’ or unsupportable?, Health Law Daily, March 8, 2017).

Read further, “How the AHCA directly impacts significant parts of the ACA.”

For more information, visit http://health.wolterskluwerlb.com or call 800-449-6435.

Is the American Health Care Act a ‘critical first step’ or unsupportable?

HHS Secretary Tom Price, M.D., supports the reconciliation recommendations known as the American Health Care Act, and considers the changes a necessary and important first step in further reforming the U.S. health care system. In a letter to the chairs of the House Committees on Energy & Commerce and Ways & Means, Price explained that in his view, the proposed legislation aligns with President Donald Trump’s promise to repeal and replace the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148). Two major industry groups, however, said that they could not support the current version of the bills.

American Health Care Act 

On March 6, 2017, House Speaker Paul Ryan announced the American Health Care Act, consisting of two committee “budget reconciliation legislative recommendations,” which would be passed under the provisions of S. Con. Res. 3, a resolution which developed a streamlined process for Congress to pass health reform without threat of Senate filibuster. The document from the Ways & Means Committee would alter many of the ACA’s tax provisions, including eliminating penalties related to the individual and employer mandates, while the Energy & Commerce Committee’s document focuses on changes to the Medicaid program (see Republicans present health reform that is neither repeal nor replacement, March 7, 2017). Both committees began markup on the bills less than two days after the documents were made public.

First step in Administration’s plan

According to Price, the reconciliation legislation is just the first of three planned steps in undoing the ACA’s reforms. The reconciliation process can only be used to change some ACA provisions, though not all, and also cannot be used for all of the Trump Administration’s planned reforms. To complete those changes, HHS has two more planned steps; first, taking administrative actions to provide patients with additional options and give states more flexibility in Medicaid spending, and second, to support legislation on Trump’s other priorities including sale of insurance across state lines and medical tort reform. HHS noted that the Administration has already begun work on the second step, including Trump’s Executive Order on minimizing the economic burden of the ACA (see Trump Administration previews health care plans with Executive Order, regulatory freeze, January 23, 2017) and a Proposed rule designed to stabilize the health insurance marketplace by altering enrollment periods and other rules.

AHA and AMA opposition

Two major stakeholders in the health reform debate are the American Hospital Association (AHA) and American Medical Association (AMA), both of which released statements saying that, as currently written, neither organization could support the American Health Care Act. AHA President and CEO Richard J. Pollack wrote a letter on behalf of the hospitals, health systems, health organizations, and clinician partners associated with the group, and first raised concerns about the lack of coverage estimates from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and asked that Congress wait until an estimate is available before proceeding with formal consideration of the Act. The letter also listed the AHA’s policy concerns, including the restructuring of Medicaid—which “already pays providers significantly less than the cost of providing care—and the elimination of funding sources while continuing the ACA”s reductions in hospital payments.

Similarly, AMA President Andrew W. Gurman, M.D., wrote that the Act would reverse the ACA’s coverage gains, with millions of Americans losing coverage, and insisted on the involvement of physicians in the health reform debate. AMA Vice President and CEO James L. Madara, M.D., wrote a letter to the Committee Chairs and Ranking Members in which he said the organization cannot support the Act as drafted “because of the expected decline in health insurance coverage and the potential harm it would cause to vulnerable patient populations.” He noted concerns that rolling back the ACA’s Medicaid expansion would limit state flexibility and urged the Committees to “do all that is possible” to prevent individuals who currently have health insurance from losing that coverage.