Congress Aims to Keep Campaign Promises on Health Care as Courts Continue to Review Administration Policies

  

By: Gregory Craig and Matthew Fitting

Following a midterm election cycle in which voters consistently listed health care as their top issue priority, members of the 116th Congress have wasted no time in proposing, introducing, and debating several measures that would significantly impact the way Americans receive and pay for health coverage.

Health Care Legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives

Most recently, Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), the Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, on March 26, 2019 introduced H.R. 1884 – the “Protecting Pre-Existing Conditions and Making Health Care More Affordable Act of 2019”. This legislation would strengthen many of the consumer protections and pre-existing conditions provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), promote individual health insurance enrollment on the ACA Marketplace, and roll back regulatory actions that the administration has implemented since January 2017. Some of the specific provisions would:

  • Expand income-based eligibility for premium tax credits used to purchase individual health insurance coverage and increase tax credits for all income brackets, allowing more individuals to purchase subsidized health insurance coverage;
  • Fix the so-called “family glitch” to make it easier for low- and middle-income individuals to purchase subsidized family coverage;
  • Rescind the administration’s final rule expanding the availability of Association Health Plans (AHPs) that can circumvent many of the ACA’s consumer protections, specifically those involving Essential Health Benefits (read ANA’s comment letter on AHPs here);
  • Rescind the administration’s final rule expanding the availability of short-term, limited duration insurance plans, which are not required to comply with any of the ACA’s consumer protections (read ANA’s comment letter on short-term, limited duration insurance here);
  • Require the Department of Health and Human Services to conduct marketing and outreach for open enrollment with $100 million in annual appropriations (read ANA’s plan year 2018 open enrollment report here);
  • Establish a state-based reinsurance program that would allow states to set up their own reinsurance programs, or to use the funds to provide premium subsidies or cost-sharing support, with a federal reinsurance program as a backstop.

ANA has publicly supported many of the provisions in H.R. 1884 and has consistently promoted a bipartisan proposal – similar to the reinsurance proposal included in H.R. 1884 above – that Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA) introduced in the previous Congress that would have established a similar program and restored cost-sharing payment reductions that help low-income individuals afford co-insurance and deductible costs (the Administration canceled these payments in October 2017).

The proposal that has arguably grabbed the most headlines, however, is “Medicare for All,” a general campaign slogan that was recently introduced as legislation by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) with a Senate bill soon to follow to be introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). The bill would implement an expanded government-run Medicare program and do away with much of the private insurance system currently in place (well over half of Americans currently receive health insurance through their employer or in the Marketplace).

While the legislation is consistent with ANA’s support for universal access to health coverage, there are several provisions that could negatively impact the nation’s four million registered nurses, as well as the patients for whom they provide care. Some of these include:

  • A fee-for-service program that could significantly reduce payment rates and have a trickle-down effect on Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs), who are currently reimbursed at 85% the rate that Medicare reimburses physicians for the same work;
  • A Medicare Trust Fund that could lead to uncertainty around payments and impact access to care should beneficiary access to services exceed the fiscal year budget;
  • The establishment of regional offices charged with recommending changes in provider reimbursement and establishing quality assurance mechanisms for their regions, which could lead to a patchwork of coverage and tempt providers to practice where reimbursement rates are higher.

Federal Courts Reviewing ACA Provisions

The Department of Justice on March 25 unexpectedly sent a letter to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to state that the Administration fully supports the December 2018 U.S. District Court decision in Texas v. Azar that would invalidate the entire Affordable Care Act (the U.S. District Court decision was stayed pending appeal; the Administration had previously only supported striking down parts of the ACA, including pre-existing conditions provisions). This case will likely make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court for a final decision, though that decision would probably not come until 2020 or later. Invalidating the entire ACA with no plan to replace it would be extremely disruptive to the U.S. health care system and would result in enormous insurance coverage and financial losses.

On March 27, the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia threw out Medicaid work requirements in both Kentucky and Arkansas. This is the second time that Kentucky’s Medicaid work requirements have been blocked in federal court. Arkansas’ work requirements were implemented in June 2018 and have resulted in 18,000 individuals losing coverage. The same federal court on March 28 issued a ruling that rejects the administration’s final rule that expands the availability of Association Health Plans. ANA has consistently opposed expanding the availability of these plans, as they represent an end-around of the ACA’s essential health benefits requirements for insurance coverage.

ANA’s Commitment to Universal Access to Quality Health Care

ANA is committed to a pragmatic approach to ensuring universal access to quality, affordable, and accessible health care for all Americans, particularly vulnerable populations and those with pre-existing conditions. As ANA stated in a recent press release: “Universal access to a standard package of essential health care services for all citizens and residents is of paramount importance to the American Nurses Association. Nurses have a critical voice in this debate, and ANA is committed to advancing policy initiatives that provide and expand access to affordable coverage and quality care for all.”

This is the latest chapter in the decades-old health care debate – we expect that many proposals will be offered before the 2020 election. ANA will continue to be involved and actively advocate for nurses and the patients for whom they provided care.

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Author: Gregory Craig

Analyst in the Health Policy Office of the American Nurses Association.

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