Tax Reform and Spending Measures Threaten Healthcare for Millions – Including Children

  

Congressional Republicans threaten to put coal in the stockings of millions of Americans this holiday season, as they are poised to pass a massive tax bill – the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act – that promises to significantly reduce the number of Americans with health insurance. Meanwhile, House members have decided to play politics with the health care coverage of 9 million children, as they have placed a provision to re-authorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) into a spending measure that could potentially lead to a government shutdown.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act

The push toward final passage of a tax reform bill took a major step forward this week, as House and Senate Republican members of the conference committee  settled on a compromise version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Among its many provisions, the bill eliminates the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, which requires Americans to purchase health insurance or pay a financial penalty. As we have written before, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that repealing the individual mandate would result in 13 million fewer Americans having health insurance. Such a reduction in coverage would result in negative health outcomes, higher costs, and a decreased focus on primary care and preventive services.

The bill also lowers the threshold for an individual to claim a medical expense deduction. More Americans will also likely find it necessary to take this deduction – without health insurance coverage, they will be much more likely to experience crippling medical expenses.  The bill allows individuals to deduct medical costs greater than or equal to 7.5% of an individual’s income; this is lower than the 10% threshold under current law. This is deceptive, however, as the threshold to claim the medical expense deduction will return to 10% in tax year 2019 and is only available to tax filers who itemize their deductions.

The likelihood for passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that came out of conference committee is still fairly uncertain. The conference committee held its only public meeting yesterday. The next steps in the process will be votes on the floors of the House and Senate. The timeline for these votes is not crystal clear, but the expectation is that both chambers will vote on final passage next week. Once this occurs – and assuming that the bill passes both chambers – it will head to President Trump’s desk, at which point he will sign it into law.

Children’s Health Insurance Program

Congress recently passed a continuing resolution to fund the government at current levels through December 22nd. This funding deadline, however, is fast approaching, and Congress will need to pass yet another spending bill by that date in order to avoid a government shutdown. House Republicans have already proposed such a measure, which would extend government funding through January 19th, and provide a crucial five-year extension of CHIP. A point of contention, however, is that the spending measure would fully fund the Department of Defense for the full year with a $73 billion funding increase over current spending levels. This is a non-starter for Congressional Democrats, who have demanded a dollar-for-dollar increase in spending for domestic programs for any spending increase in defense programs.

The funding situation for CHIP is truly dire. Federal spending authorization for the program ran out on September 30th; Congress has failed to act for over two months. While states have been using reserve funding to fill the gap, that excess funding will soon run out. Sixteen states – Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, California, Texas, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Minnesota, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Florida, Massachusetts, Delaware, and New Hampshire – anticipate running out of funding by the end of January 2018. It is absolutely critical that Congress pass a CHIP reauthorization immediately; playing politics with the healthcare of 9 million American children is unacceptable.

We urge you to make your voices heard in Washington and to make it known that nurses demand comprehensive and quality care for all of the nation’s citizens, regardless of age or income level. Click here to tell your  representatives loudly and clearly that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is bad for Americans’ health and well-being and that CHIP is a crucial program for our children’s health.

 

Senate Attempts to Stabilize Healthcare with Bipartisan Agreement

  

Yesterday, Senate HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) announced they had reached a short-term deal bipartisan healthcare legislation. This legislation would stabilize individual insurance markets and protect patients and families from premium spikes and uncertainty caused by the Trump Administration’s two decisions last week intended to destabilize the ACA marketplaces.

The deal negotiated by Alexander and Murray would fund payments to help lower costs for families, provide added flexibility to states, protect essential health benefits for patients, and restore investments for open enrollment outreach.

The bill would:

  • Restore Cost-Sharing Reduction payments and the certainty that is crucial to continued market stability and affordability for families. Insurers have raised rates by as much as 30% because of the uncertainty around CSR payments and continue to threaten exit from insurance markets.
  • Restore certainty to health care markets by ensuring CSRs will continue through 2017, 2018, and 2019.
  • Include steps to ensure 2018 enrollees receive the financial benefit of CSRs for the coming year.
  • Require the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to increase funding for outreach and enrollment assistance activities for 2018 and 2019; this is a top priority for ANA with Open Enrollment beginning November 1.
  • Put in place extensive reporting requirements to make sure HHS is held accountable for implementing Open Enrollment in 2018 and 2019.

Most importantly, the bill would generally keep in place essential health benefits and protections for pre-existing conditions with the exception of consumers who qualify for catastrophic plans.

The legislation will need 60 votes to pass through the Senate and ultimately Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will determine if the bill goes to the floor for a vote. In addition, lawmakers will need to convince the President that this bill will benefit the consumer and not the insurers. To date, the President has responded with mixed reviews.

Senate Republican Healthcare Push Ends in Defeat (Again)

  
Photo: Al Drago, New York Times
Photo: Al Drago, New York Times

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has chosen not to hold a vote on the Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. With a September 30th deadline to pass healthcare legislation with a simple majority of votes, opposition from at least 3 members of the 52-member Republican caucus, united Democratic opposition, and no viable alternative plan, the Senate Republican push to repeal and replace the ACA is effectively dead (for now).

The American Nurses Association would like to express its immense gratitude to all of our members, constituent and state nursing associations, organizational affiliates, and partner advocacy groups for all of your work in helping to defeat this latest attempt to gut the American healthcare system. Your calls, emails, and letters to your elected officials, as well as your physical presence at rallies and hearings, ratcheted up the pressure on these officials and made it known loud and clear that this legislation would have had an enormously adverse impact on the ability of your patients to receive high quality healthcare.

Quite simply, the Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson bill was bad public policy. Its provisions would have: ripped away coverage from Americans receiving care under Medicaid expansion and limited federal funding for the Medicaid program overall; eroded protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions; made it easier for states to remove the 10 Essential Health Benefits requirements; slashed federal funding for healthcare services; defunded the Prevention and Public Health Fund; and defunded Planned Parenthood for one year. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, in the very limited time it had to do an analysis, concluded that millions of Americans would have lost their healthcare coverage under this bill. In addition, many experts noted that states would have had only two years to implement drastically different healthcare systems with no federal support to speak of – a nearly impossible task.

ANA would also like to offer our tremendous thanks to the members of Congress who opposed the Graham-Cassidy bill. In particular, the 48-member Democratic caucus once again showed its grit and resolve by standing united against this bill in favor of the best interests of its constituents. ANA would also like to thank Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) for demonstrating their resolve in the face of tremendous pressure from their caucus to pass repeal and replace legislation. These senators should be commended for putting the best interests of their constituents ahead of their party and standing opposed to this legislation.

As we have seen before, the failure of one repeal and replace proposal does not automatically mean that the healthcare system is safe. It is very likely that the Trump administration will continue to undermine the ACA through regulatory and other policy measures; we have already seen this in their assaults on value-based purchasing regulations, their brinksmanship with respect to cost-sharing reduction payments, and their refusal to undertake a robust ACA enrollment strategy crucial to connecting Americans with individual health insurance coverage. Senate Republicans are also already discussing language for the FY 2019 budget which would allow them to once again use reconciliation to repeal and replace the ACA.

ANA believes that the current healthcare system created by the ACA can and should be improved upon. However, any healthcare reform proposals should be done in a bipartisan manner, through regular order, and should offer pragmatic solutions to real problems faced by Americans. Of immediate importance are the reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) – which runs out of funding on September 30th – the stabilization of the individual insurance market, which received several bipartisan hearings in the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, and the implementation of a robust enrollment campaign for the ACA’s individual insurance market. These issues are straightforward, would advance ANA’s principles of health system transformation, and, most importantly, ensure that more Americans are able to receive high-quality healthcare.

The fight over healthcare reform is not over. While another repeal and replace bill has gone down to defeat, there will be further attempts to undermine the gains realized under the ACA. For these reasons, we urge you to continue to press your elected officials – local, state, and federal – to commit to ensuring healthcare reform in alignment with ANA’s principles of health system transformation. For now, however, let’s take a deep breath and celebrate stepping back from the brink of what would have been a disastrous transformation of the healthcare system.