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Remedy unclear: Pending changes to health law create uncertainty

End to Obamacare welcomed by some, a threat to others

POSTED: March 19, 2017 12:30 a.m.
ERIN O. SMITH/The Times

Hennella Adeola, Abbi Mikell and Julie Christian work on admitting and discharging patients Wednesday at Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville.

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Dismantling the Affordable Care Act has become like political sport in Washington, with Republicans and Democrats duking it out and pundits also in the fray.

But it’s no game for ordinary Americans trying hard to figure out what’s in the latest Republican health care bill — dubbed the American Health Care Act — and what it means, both in costs and services.

Though they went through opposite experiences under ACA, area residents like Brittany Ivey and Marisa Pyle are keeping an eye on the legislation, which is like a moving target, with new developments every day.

“I know it’s not going to turn around overnight, but I’m hoping that maybe my kids will have insurance they can work with one day,” said Ivey, who saw her family’s insurance premiums skyrocket after ACA was launched in 2010.

Ivey, who has shared her story with Congress, believes health care will be straightened out.

“I’m thankful for our current administration,” she said. “I really think they care about everyday Americans, and they want to help us, and that’s promising.”

Pyle, who believes ACA was a lifesaver for her and her family after she was diagnosed with two autoimmune disorders, has a different take.

“If they come up with a replacement that will cover more people and be cheaper and be a better system, I’d be 100 percent on board with that,” she said.

However, among other things, proposed tax credits in the new plan “are based on the assumption that only older people get sick and young people are healthy,” Pyle said. “That’s fundamentally inaccurate for me, given my situation.”

The bill, passed Thursday by the House Budget Committee, preserves popular items such as coverage for pre-existing conditions and allowing people under 26 to stay on their parents’ insurance. But much has changed.

One of the key things to be removed is the requirement that every American have insurance or face tax penalties from the IRS. Also gone would be federal subsidies that let millions afford insurance. Replacing them would be tax credits that are bigger for older people.

It also would cut Medicaid, repeal the law’s tax increases on higher earning Americans and require 30 percent higher premiums for consumers who let coverage lapse.

Top Republicans hope House approval will take place this week.

In a statement last week, U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, said, “President Trump and congressional Republicans are working to restore Americans’ access to affordable, patient-centered health care.

“With the (Congressional Budget Office) scoring predicting lower premiums and billions of dollars in taxpayer savings, I’m pleased to see the Republican plan to repeal Obamacare move forward.”

The nonpartisan CBO also projected the legislation would boot 24 million people from health coverage, including 14 million who’d lose it next year.

Health secretary Tom Price has said the report was “simply wrong” and he disagreed “strenuously,” saying it omitted the impact of additional GOP legislation and regulatory changes the Trump administration plans.

Conservatives want to end Obama’s expansion of Medicaid to 11 million additional low-income people next year, rather than 2020, as the Affordable Care Act had proposed.

Last week, Republican Gov. Nathan Deal said changes to ACA shouldn’t “punish” the 19 states, including Georgia, that refused to expand Medicaid coverage.

Chase Reed, chairman of the Hall County Young Republicans, said he likes that the new bill proposes “giving more power to the states in … how they handle Medicaid.”

He also supports the bill’s call for the expansion of health savings accounts and getting rid of employer mandates.

Reed said he believes the bill isn’t perfect but “is definitely a step in the right direction for health care reform.”

“Congress not only listened to President Trump in his call for immediate action but also the millions of Americans who were devastated by Obamacare,” he said.

Bette Holland, chairwoman of the Dawson County Democratic Party, said she believes the GOP plan “will make it harder for sicker, older and poorer to get the health care they need.

“Tweaks that could have been made to make Obamacare work better were never attempted as the obstructionist Republicans didn’t want it to work, even if it meant sacrificing the health and well-being of their constituents.”

She said she also is worried about the fate of rural hospitals, where Medicaid is a big deal.

Kristin Grace, a spokeswoman with Gainesville-based Northeast Georgia Health System, said the system is concerned the bill “would be detrimental.”

“Based on what we have seen, the American Health Care Act will significantly impact the state of Georgia — not only affecting the insured and the Medicare population, but also how Medicaid is funded in Georgia,” she said.

“As a state that did not expand Medicaid, we would be at a significant disadvantage to other states if we were funded based on last year’s spending.”

Brett Fowler, vice president and partner of Gainesville insurance firm Turner, Wood & Smith, said he is getting a lot of calls from employers who buy plans through them.

“We’re just letting them know that until this is actually passed — while it does look like changes will be made — it is all just speculation,” he said. “It’s just too early to say.”

Fowler’s firm has regularly participated in the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce’s annual Health Care Reform Seminar. This year’s event, set for Aug. 31, should be an interesting watch.

“It’ll be a good time to get some a little more detail about what’s going on,” Fowler said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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