Published by Mary Jo Layton on NorthJersey.com.
Several New Jersey health care experts predicted dire consequences for patients, hospitals and the state treasury if a bill approved Thursday by House Republicans that unravels many of the consumer protections provided through Obamacare — and eliminates the expansion of Medicaid — becomes law.
“Our hope is that the U.S. Senate will stand firm and refuse to pass a bill that impacts senior citizens, children and families, the disabled, veterans and millions of others, including 800,000 New Jersey residents who gained health insurance under the Affordable Care Act and 1.8 million who are covered under Medicaid,’’ said Betsy Ryan, CEO and president of the New Jersey Hospital Association.
The measure, known as the American Health Care Act, was approved 217-213 with the support of Reps. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-Harding Township, and Tom MacArthur, an Ocean County Republican, who said it protects people with pre-existing conditions and brings down premiums. Proponents say the bill would increase competition, lower costs and return power to the states and individuals, who will have more choice in selecting plans.
Linda Schwimmer, president and CEO of the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute, a nonprofit group, said the proposed changes could force states “to return to the bare-bones plans that were sold pre-ACA that didn’t keep people healthy.’’
The bill could result in 24 million more people uninsured by 2026 than under Obamacare, according to a Congressional Budget Office analysis of an earlier version of the bill.
The plan approved Thursday would eliminate Obamacare subsidies based on a person’s income and cost of coverage in their area. About 80 percent of people newly insured receive the help, but people making more than $47,500 and families of four earning more than $97,200 don’t qualify. Instead, Republicans want to issue tax credits to help people afford insurance on the individual market based mainly on a person’s age.
Schwimmer said the bill would drive up costs for older people — by charging them premiums that could cost five times the premiums paid by younger people. It would also convert Medicaid funding to block grants, radically reducing what the federal government is contributing for coverage.
“It also is a budget buster for states — there is no doubt about that,’’ Schwimmer said. “There is a reason why almost every known health expert, along with medical providers and consumer groups, are opposed to ACHA. ‘’
Even though it could be weeks before the Senate takes action, New Jersey is preparing for any changes that could arise. The institute is working with key health care experts, including Sen. Joe Vitale, D-Woodbridge, chairman of the state Senate Health Committee, to develop strategies the state can try if the measure becomes law.
“We will have to either make cuts in our programs or we formulate different benefits,’’ Vitale said, referring to threats to the Medicaid expansion. “There is no magic money if Washington pulls the plug.’’