Community forum focuses on saving Affordable HealthcareBy Yasmine Regester / March 31, 2017
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A community forum on the state of healthcare was held at Trinity AME Zion Church on March 28 by the Greensboro Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
Panel participants consisted of healthcare advocates who discussed the importance of saving the Affordable Care Act. They included: Elizabeth Freeze, development director of Planned Parenthood; Rob Luisana, managing partner at Pilot Benefits; Anna Sibley, health navigator at Partnership4Care; Nicole Dozier, director of the Health Advocacy Project, N.C. Justice Center; and Dr. Margaret Salinger, board member of the League of Women Voters.
A three month effort by Congressional Republicans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act failed when the measure was pulled from the U.S. House Floor agenda on March 24 due to a lack of support from House Republicans and Democrats.
H.R. 1628 or The American Health Care Act of 2017 would have repealed tax penalties for people without health insurance, rolled back federal insurance standards, reduced subsidies for the purchase of insurance, would have repealed hundreds of billions of dollars in taxes imposed by the Affordable Care Act and would also have cut off federal funds to Planned Parenthood for one year.
That’s a hit that Planned Parenthood can’t afford to take, said Elizabeth Freeze, dev. director at Planned Parenthood South Atlantic.
“We still anticipate at a federal level that we will see bills that will restrict access to family planning services,” said Freeze, adding that there was a 23 percent decrease in the uninsured rate for women aged 15-44 between 2013-2015 due to the ACA.
“The state level has taken on restrictions on abortions, and there aren’t enough Medicaid providers in the network” to provide healthcare services, said Freeze. She encouraged people to contact their state and federal representatives so that representatives understand the impact when healthcare access for women is restricted.
The Republican-led bill would have set new limits on spending for Medicaid, the federal-state program that covers more than 70 million low-income people. The new standards would have undone the expansion of Medicaid under the A.C.A., which added 11 million low-income adults to the program since its expansion in states that accepted it. It also removed the requirement that a person have medical coverage. Under the ACA, everyone is required to buy insurance or pay a penalty. The ACA also offers federal subsidies to help people who qualify to pay for insurance, and offers states more Medicaid dollars to cover adults at lower incomes.
“The law has been controversial and often confusing since it was passed,” said Anna Sibley, health navigator at Partnership4Care. “But the good thing is that you cannot be denied medical coverage for pre-existing conditions. I’m here to let you know that the ACA is still in place in its entirety, so pay your premiums and use your insurance.”
The U.S. Congressional Budget Office delivered an assessment that the American Health Care Act would leave 24 million more Americans without insurance by 2024, compared with the number who would be uninsured under the current law. The panelists were also concerned that the Republican led legislation would drive insurance premiums higher, particularly for older Americans approaching retirement.
Dr. Margaret Salinger explained that Medicaid already doesn’t cover all poor people and adding the per person caps would cause many to go without insurance.
Had the AHCA passed, “Fourteen million people nationwide would lose insurance thru Medicaid. It’s crucial to create a healthcare program that supports a robust Medicaid plan,” said Salinger.
According to Salinger, North Carolina’s refusal to expand Medicaid meant the state has given up $5 million per day since January 2014 in tax dollars that have gone to fund expansion in other states. Not only did job creation suffer, but a lack of Medicaid expansion also led to the closing of rural hospitals, further restricting access to healthcare. The current law allows young adults to stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26 and provides birth control at low to no cost.
Rob Luisana, managing partner at Pilot Benefits, a Greensboro insurance company noted that while the cost of insurance and services has always been a problem, the more people that are insured, the better the costs for everyone.
“What we’re doing now with healthcare is not sustainable. We have a problem that we have so many uninsured that they fall into the Medicaid bucket. But then those are spilling over. People know that they can still get healthcare in the ER, which drives up the costs,” said Luisana, referring to $72 million in uninsured costs absorbed last year by Cone Health.
According to an analysis by the N.C. Justice Center, over 90 percent of North Carolinians depend on federal subsidies to afford their plans. The AHCA would have repealed that federal financial assistance and replaced it with a flat, age-related tax credit that does not adjust for income or health plan costs.
Moving forward, Nicole Dozier, director of the Health Advocacy Project with the N.C. Justice Center suggested creating a contact person or organization in the community to get people engaged around healthcare.
“Create talking points. The main thing is to share your story. The Affordable Care Act is not just about the people enrolled in the program. Those protections provided under the Affordable Care Act take care of all of us,” said Dozier.