THCB readers are well aware this coming week Senate Republicans plan to begin debate on passing their amended version of the House-passed American Health Care Act (AHCA), titled the Better Care Reconciliation Act. As of today, June 23rd, immediate reactions by Republican senators to the June 22nd released discussion draft have been limited largely because members immediately left town after the draft’s release. The Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO’s) score, that will again be influential, is expected this Monday or Tuesday. Senate debate on the legislation will likely begin next Wednesday with a vote expected late Friday or early Saturday morning, or just prior to their week-long July 4th recess. Here is an assessment of the legislation’s prospects:
You can find the full text of the Senate Bill here.
Following is the Senate Republicans summary of their Obamacare replacement bill, with comments by NYU’s Jason Chung.
Seven years ago, Democrats imposed a risky health care experiment on Americans that led to skyrocketing costs and collapsing insurance markets. Senate Republicans are working to fix the mess Democrats made by acting to rescue the millions trapped by Obamacare.
Jason Chung: While Obamacare has been largely successful in its aims to get millions of uninsured Americans medical coverage, including low-income and those with pre-existing conditions, it has also thus far failed to rein in premiums. Some of that can be attributed to Obamacare failing to institute a public option, which would charge premium lower by 7% to 8% according to the Congressional Budget Office.
This is a nuanced position. One can support former President Obama for extending coverage for up to 17.7 million more people and criticize him for failing to account for or communicate the possibility of rising premiums in an unchecked for-profit health insurance model.
Did you realize that the American Health Care Act (AHCA) recently passed by the Congressional Republican majority will allow insurers to deny coverage for mental illness? Did you realize that the AHCA permits insurers to charge women more than men because they get pregnant? That the AHCA will allow insurers to terminate a family’s coverage if they incur claims that exceed their annual premium for three straight years? That at the urging of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a group of Republican lawmakers in the Senate has proposed language that would make medical marijuana a pre-existing condition? And that the same group of lawmakers is mulling a requirement that would grant immigration officials sweeping new powers to review records of patients suspected of committing crimes or posing as a loosely-defined “threat to community health.”
The recent debate over the potential repeal and replacement of the ACA, with the current focus on coverage for preexisting conditions, has drawn a great deal of attention to the concept of health insurance. While our political leaders are constantly talking about it, few of them seem to understand the “insurance” component of health insurance. As a result, much of what they say about preexisting condition coverage is gibberish. We are here to set the record straight.
At its most basic level, insurance provides protection against the risk of unexpected financial losses. We focus on the term risk because if we were risk neutral (i.e., we were indifferent between sure things and actuarially equivalent gambles), then we would not value this protection. But nearly all of us are risk averse, meaning that we would rather not face having to dramatically reduce consumption of everything we enjoy in the event we are hit with an astronomical medical bill. Because we are risk averse, health insurance improves our collective well-being by helping us collectively smooth our consumption. Everyone who purchases insurance consumes somewhat less of everything else when healthy, but does not have to consume dramatically less when sick.
Late-night comedian Jimmy Kimmel, in a recent opening monologue, spoke tearfully of his newborn son Billy, born with a serious congenital heart defect. Heart defects in newborns, while uncommon, occur in 1 in 100 births. The more serious ones, meaning those needing surgery in the first year, represent about a quarter of all congenital heart defects.
Jimmy’s son fell into the latter category, with Tetralogy of Fallot, bad plumbing in the heart, causing oxygen-poor blood to circulate out into the body without picking up a fresh supply of oxygen from the lungs. Hence the newborn baby turning blue.
I have firsthand experience with this, as my youngest son was born with the same heart defect. He needed surgery as an infant and then two additional open heart procedures before reaching adulthood. I have walked in Jimmy Kimmel’s shoes and understand exactly what he is feeling – terror, anguish, guilt, helplessness, and hopelessness.
I hope you read this letter. I doubt you will.
I know you’re busy rebuilding Washington, reshaping the international order and doing a lot of other weighty stuff. Full disclosure, I voted for you. Not because you promised to repeal the Affordable Care Act, or because you tweeted at me about it, but because our healthcare system is hopelessly broken and requires an overhaul that does not simply convert over to a single payer system.
Recently you were quoted in an interview with Reuters:
“I loved my previous life… I had so many things going… this is more work than my previous life. I thought it would be easier.” Yes. I did too. Welcome to the frustrating world of shaping health care for a nation. It should be about making others’ lives better, but instead it is about padding lobbyist pockets.
There are people who say you’re the wrong man for this job. I think they have it exactly backwards. You’re famous for your hatred of complicated solutions. They annoy you. They annoy you because you know they’re a waste of time and energy. Time and energy that can be put into more important things.
You’re also well known for your distrust of experts, who you’ve learned to dislike after years of doing business and listening to boring presentations by people who don’t know what they’re talking about. There are more experts in healthcare than any other area of the economy. Does that tell you something? I think it does.
In 2014 I took my first trip to Kenya. After my plane landed in Nairobi I rode for 10 hours with my medical colleagues to Bungoma, a town on the western edge of the country. We set up our clinic in the local hospital and then spent the week training local healthcare providers on a technique called ‘Visual Inspection with Acetic Acid (VIA)’. This is an inexpensive method to screen for cervical cancer and pre-cancer in low resource settings using vinegar. As a part of the training we screened 189 women for cervical cancer in that week.
The Papaniculou (pap) smear was revolutionary in cervical cancer prevention. The incidence of cervical cancer in the United States has decreased from 14.8 cases per 100,000 women in 1975 to only 6.5 cases per 100,000 women in 2012.
However, despite this relative ease of screening for cervical cancer it is still a health crisis in less developed countries. Worldwide, approximately 500,000 new cases of cervical cancer and 274,000 deaths are attributable to cervical cancer yearly, making cervical cancer the second most common cause of death from cancer in women.
Jim was at his desk, looking weary.
The last few weeks had been brutal. Despite working twelve-hour days, he felt that he had little to show for it. His annual board meeting was to take place the next day, and he expected it to be tense.
With a replacement bill for the ACA about to be voted on, and with Trump in the White House, the situation seemed particularly precarious. The board members had asked him to present a contingency plan, in case things in DC didn’t go well.
As CEO of a major health insurance company, Jim was well aware that business as usual had become unsustainable in his line of work. No matter what insurers had tried to do in the last few years—imposing onerous rules, setting high deductibles, pushing for government subsidies—prices had been going up and up.
Premiums, of course, had had to do the same but, evidently, the limit had now been reached. The horror stories being told at town hall meetings across the country were all too real. People were fed up, and politicians were feeling the heat.
Something needed to be done to change course, but what? He did not have any good plan to propose to the board.
Judging by the dazed expression on President Trump’s face at his Friday afternoon press conference, it is clear that he never saw his first major political defeat coming. It was as if he had stepped off the curb looking the other direction into the path of an uncoming bus.
The key to any political victory is situational awareness- clarity about your goals and mastery of the details. There were warning signs of a potentially fatal disengagement, for example, in Trump’s periodic references to “the healthcare” when discussing the issue.
It doesn’t make Trump’s political pain any more bearable to know that he was mugged by a ghost, by a potent political symbol nourished by the Obama administration. The stunningly rapid political failure of the American Health Care Act more resembled a botched exorcism than a serious exercise in health policy.
From his successful campaign, Trump knew that repealing and replacing ObamaCare was the most reliable thunderous applause line in his stump speech. This visceral connection moved the issue to the top of his political agenda. To Trump’s political base, repealing ObamaCare was striking a blow against a paternalistic all-knowing federal government, against interference in citizens’ private lives, against confiscation and redistribution of peoples’ wealth, to a new “entitlement” program, but most of all, against a President they reviled.