A bad process leaves the Senate with nothing but bad options

  

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) this week scored several versions of the misguided health care legislation put forward by Senate Republicans, finding that between 22 and 32 million Americans would lose coverage if any of these bills were passed into law. Public opposition from moderate senators including Susan Collins (R-ME), Shelly Moore Capito (R-WV), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) have forced Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to consider several possible paths forward, all of which will prove challenging.

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  • The Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) was introduced in mid-June and would take away coverage for an estimated 22 million Americans. Its failure to garner support from a majority of Senate Republicans is why other bills are now in play.
  • An updated version of the BCRA included an amendment from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) that would deregulate the insurance market and allow providers to offer plans for those with pre-existing conditions that would be separate from (and likely much more expensive than) plans offered to those without. The CBO has not scored this bill, in part because it, too, lacks the necessary support to move forward.
  • Yet another updated version of the BCRA that does not include the Cruz amendment received its CBO score earlier today, and would also result in 22 million losing coverage.
  • The Obamacare Repeal Reconciliation Act (ORRA) was introduced yesterday, and would repeal the ACA without a replacement – commonly known as “repeal and delay.” Instead, Congress would be given two years to come up with an alternative plan. Over the next decade, CBO estimates that ORRA would cause 32 million Americans to lose coverage.

As McConnell continues trying to find a way forward, uncertainty over which version of repeal will be put to a vote next week – and whether it would include a replacement for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or not – is a fitting conclusion to a process that has lacked transparency and failed to incorporate the expertise of healthcare providers, including America’s 3.6 million nurses.

The American Nurses Association continues to oppose these efforts because they all fail to meet our principles for health system transformation.

Each of the bills under consideration would:

  • Lead to unaffordable premiums for seniors and individuals with pre-existing conditions.
  • Cut or cap Medicaid and end state-based Medicaid expansion, which would have a devastating impact on those who can’t afford health care in the private market.
  • Worsen the opioid and suicide epidemics, at a time when states are struggling to cope with the toll these epidemics have taken.

Nurses have joined with concerned citizens across the country to make their voices heard, and are closer than ever to defeating these bills. It’s critical that we send a clear message to our representatives: reforming America’s health care system should be done in a transparent and bipartisan manner, and include input from those who care for and treat patients every day.

Senate Republicans, however, are continuing to negotiate, which is why concerned advocates should continue calling their Senators and urging them to follow a process that allows adequate time for public input and embraces common-sense fixes to the ACA. Making health care better isn’t impossible, as long as nurses are given a seat at the table.

Buyer Beware: Ted Cruz Goes Pro-Choice

  

The concept of the Trojan horse is familiar to us all. After a 10 year siege of Troy, the invading Greeks pretended to sail away—but left behind the infamous horse with a group of elite soldiers hidden away inside of it. The Trojans pulled the horse into the city as their victory trophy, and the rest, as they say, is history.

But to understand why the Cruz amendment to the Senate healthcare bill is a Trojan horse that will wreak havoc on the individual insurance market, it’s necessary to understand a more complicated concept: adverse selection.

For health insurance markets to function normally there must be a mix of healthy and sick people that purchase any given product. Adverse selection occurs when purchasers of insurance recognize that they are healthier or sicker than the average consumer, and therefore buy either more or less health insurance.

This becomes a problem when sicker consumers all self-select into one health insurance product, and healthy consumers all self-select into another health insurance product. In that instance, an adverse selection problem has occurred, and the product purchased by the sicker consumers is destined for a turbulent ride as premiums skyrocket and only the sickest of the sick continue to pay them. This is the ominous “death spiral” we so often hear about.

Put in this context, it’s easy to see why the Cruz amendment to the healthcare bill presents an adverse selection problem. The Cruz amendment, as you know, will allow insurers to sell non-compliant health insurance plans alongside compliant plans. These skimpier non-compliant plans will cover fewer maladies, have higher deductibles and copays, will be exempt from requirements to provide preventative care at no out of pocket cost, and will undoubtedly be much cheaper than compliant health insurance plans.

Those who are not yet sick will flock to these plans. And the sick will stick to those that actually provide coverage. But without the benefit of a healthy mix of consumers in the compliant plans, they will be in for a turbulent ride.

If you’re healthy, this may seem like a great deal. The only change you’ll notice at first will be an increase in the number of go-fund me pages you see on Facebook for those who purchased non-compliant plans and made the mistake of getting sick, having a heart attack, or coming down with cancer. But sooner or later, we all make the change from healthy to sick, from subsidizer to subsidized—that’s life, and that’s health insurance. And when we do, we’ll all be a lot better off if we don’t fall for the Trojan horse of the Cruz amendment to the healthcare bill.

Protect Your Practice: Healthcare Bill will have Profound Impact on Nursing, Nurses, Patient Care

  

To many nurses around the country, the talk about healthcare reform in the nation’s capital is just that: a whole lot of talk. But if the current healthcare bill being considered by the Senate passes, are you ready for how it will impact your practice and the nursing profession as a whole?

Take hospital funding, for example. Love it or hate it, it’s a fact that “Obamacare” (or the  Affordable Care Act, “ACA”) drastically reduced the amount of money hospitals spend annually on uncompensated, or “charitable,” care.

In one state alone, Minnesota, hospitals have seen their uncompensated care costs decline by 17% since the implementation of the ACA, saving hospitals in the state about $53 million annually.

Such numbers are far from uncommon, and are probably similar where you live. The reason is simple: when more people have insurance, more people are able to pay their hospital bills. Unfortunately, the healthcare changes being considered by the Senate would leave 49 million people across the US without health insurance, once again increasing the need for hospitals to provide enormous (and enormously expensive) amounts of charitable and otherwise uncompensated care.

These increased costs will need to be accounted for in hospital budgets and will likely impact nurse staffing and care delivery—a critical issue which ANA recently addressed in a widely co-signed letter to the Center for Medicare Services.

But the healthcare bill will also impact nurses outside of the hospital setting. According to a recent survey of school administrators, over seventy percent of school districts turn to Medicaid to pay for the health professionals and school nurses needed to care for special education students. Since the senate healthcare bill would cut Medicaid spending by almost $800 billion and impose a cap on the amount of Medicaid-funded services any child could receive, school nurses and administrators are staunchly opposed to the bill.

Even if you don’t work in a hospital setting, and even if you don’t have children in school, it’s likely you will still be impacted by the healthcare bill being considered by the Senate. For example, we all have a vested interest in the health of our nation’s veterans. But of concern to veterans, VA nurses, and Veterans groups, 1.75 million vets stand to lose their Medicaid coverage under the healthcare bill, which in turn would impact the VA as more veterans seek care in that already overloaded and underfunded system.

Since Medicaid pays for most of the 1.4 million Americans in nursing homes, elderly Americans and nursing home nurses are also gravely concerned by the impact of the healthcare bill. The same goes for rural nurses and citizens, whose safety-net hospitals are projected to lose eighty-three percent of their net income by 2026 under the new bill.

The list goes on: whether or not you realize it, this healthcare bill will impact you and your practice, perhaps in ways that are unforeseen or unintended. That’s why the American Nurses Association is calling for a more thorough, nuanced, and bipartisan process for healthcare reform.

We urge the Senate to step back and approach this herculean task in a way that works for all Americans. For the sake of nurses and their patients, we can’t afford to get this one wrong.