Boston hospital chiefs, health advocates see peril in Obamacare repeal
Dozens of Massachusetts doctors, hospital executives, and health care advocates issued a grim warning on Monday that the latest GOP-led effort to replace the Affordable Care Act would decimate insurance coverage and disrupt care for vulnerable patients and families.
They described the latest bill, known as the Graham-Cassidy proposal, as a cruel set of policies that would particularly hurt access to health care for children, cancer patients, people with addiction, and the poor.
“I fear that if Graham-Cassidy were to pass, we would go back to attending more funerals of children,” Dr. Henry L. Dorkin, president of the Massachusetts Medical Society, said at a health care discussion in Boston convened by US Senator Edward J. Markey.
Massachusetts General Hospital’s president, Dr. Peter L. Slavin, called the Affordable Care Act an important advance for social justice. “To repeal it would be a horrible sin for this country,” he said.
Markey, who recently joined other liberal senators in promoting a single-payer health care plan, said Democrats would continue fighting the latest Obamacare repeal effort through Saturday night, the deadline for Republicans to pass a repeal this year with a simple majority.
The 2010 law mandates that all Americans obtain health insurance, and it allows millions to gain subsidized coverage. But many Republicans blame the law for driving up costs and maintain that it is “imploding.”
The newest repeal effort, known as the Graham-Cassidy proposal, now appears to be a long shot, but top Republicans are still trying to round up support for a possible vote this week.
The bill would repeal much of the ACA, also known as Obamacare, by ending the expansion of Medicaid and subsidies that allow people to buy affordable coverage. Instead, it would give states block grants for health care funding.
More than 665,000 Massachusetts residents could lose coverage under the proposal, and the state stands to lose $8.7 billion in federal funding for health care by 2027, Markey said, citing two left-leaning think tanks.
The proposal would particularly hit states like Massachusetts, which have higher costs and high rates of insurance coverage.
“In many ways, the Graham-Cassidy bill is the worst Trumpcare proposal yet,” Markey, a Democrat, said Monday.
In addition to Democrats, who strongly oppose the repeal effort, several Republican senators have voiced opposition. Susan Collins of Maine became the latest Republican senator to oppose the bill Monday, following Rand Paul of Kentucky, John McCain of Arizona, and Ted Cruz of Texas. Republicans cannot lose more than two votes for the bill to succeed.
Several at Monday’s meeting, at the JFK Federal Building, said they were concerned that the Graham-Cassidy bill would severely slash the Medicaid program, which covers the poor, elderly, and disabled, and that it would remove protections for people with preexisting medical conditions.
“Our concern is that essentially the Graham-Cassidy bill will allow insurance companies to increase the prices on insurance to make it literally unaffordable,” said Deborah Cornwall, a representative from the American Cancer Society.
Sandra L. Fenwick, president of Boston Children’s Hospital, said the legislation amounts to a “major restructuring of the Medicaid program that affects children.”
In Massachusetts, the first state to pass its own law promoting universal health coverage, opposition to repealing Obamacare is widespread. Republican Governor Charlie Baker has repeatedly broken with his party on the issue, last week calling the Graham-Cassidy proposal “a financial calamity for Massachusetts.”
“Even the supporters talk about the fact that places like Massachusetts will lose billions and billions of dollars,” Baker told the Globe earlier this month. “And in a state that, on a bipartisan basis, over a very long time, has done a good job of working with the federal government and others to make sure that we have coverage here for people — that’s hugely troubling.”
Baker is among those who have called for a bipartisan fix to help stabilize Obamacare insurance markets, but such an effort by Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Democratic Senator Patty Murray of Washington has stalled while the Senate has been focused on another repeal attempt.
The Graham-Cassidy bill would eliminate Obamacare’s penalties on people who don’t buy insurance and on larger employers that do not offer affordable coverage to workers. It would allow states to loosen coverage requirements, including one that prohibits insurers from charging seriously ill people higher premiums.
Senate Republicans have been making late changes to the bill to try to garner more support.
Allie Hunter McDade, executive director of the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative, which represents law enforcement agencies, said the bill would make it harder to get treatment to people addicted to opioids.
“It’s very clear that more access to treatment is needed, not less,” she said. “This bill represents a significant step backwards.”