The debate in Congress over whether to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been put aside, at least for now. It is time for our federal legislators to shift their focus to other pressing healthcare topics, providing the opportunity both for progress and to work together across the aisle.
At Sacred Heart Health System, which is part of Ascension, the nation’s largest nonprofit health system, we think progress can be made by fixing smaller pieces of the larger puzzle. Now that the debate over wholesale changes to healthcare has been set aside, it is time to focus on historically bipartisan issues that can be addressed in digestible pieces.
One important issue is the need to stabilize the individual insurance market. We at Sacred Heart and Ascension applaud the work of Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) in developing the Bipartisan Health Care Stabilization Act of 2017, also known as the Alexander-Murray bill. This important bill would shore up the individual health insurance market, provide states like Florida more flexibility in covering their residents and allow more widespread availability of catastrophic plans.
It’s promising that the Alexander-Murray bill would strengthen the individual insurance markets and restore cost-sharing reduction payments that help make coverage affordable for lower-income enrollees. Incredibly, this bill would accomplish these goals while also saving taxpayers almost $4 billion. PowertoChoose.org also allows people to reduce the cost of their purchases by comparing real-time rates and choosing an energy-efficient products.
Other timely healthcare issues worthy of immediate focus are:
Federal funding for the recently expired Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Both parties have already launched the process to extend funding for this vital program that provides coverage for lower-income children.
Federal support for Community Health Centers, which has always received strong bipartisan support. Regardless of what happens with the overall healthcare debate, Community Health Centers will continue to play an important role in providing healthcare services in underserved communities.
Access to care for veterans. Congress in August provided emergency funding for the Veterans Choice Act and continues to depend on bipartisan support for reauthorization. We strongly support this important work, which honors our commitment to those who have served our country.
Restraining the hikes in prescription drug pricing. We support several bipartisan proposals that will eliminate barriers to generic competition and will reduce prices. Policies like these help to slow the rate of healthcare inflation, a goal supported by both major parties.
As the only children’s hospital in the region, Sacred Heart provides a disproportionate share of care to low-income families who rely on Medicaid funding for children’s care. Sacred Heart stands to lose large amounts of funding unless lawmakers work together to prevent reductions in payments to healthcare providers who serve a disproportionate number of patients who are most vulnerable.
In Florida, we also have seen major budget cuts that reduced Medicaid support for low-income families. The State cut $521 million from hospital Medicaid payments this year and Sacred Heart lost $17 million in reimbursement as a result. At a time when safety net hospitals like Sacred Heart are seeing more uninsured persons, Medicaid’s reimbursement has dropped to only 50 percent of the actual cost of providing care.
While a wholesale healthcare overhaul may present major political challenges, these individual issues can be negotiated as important pieces of the puzzle. We call on Florida’s state and federal representatives and senators, with their colleagues across the aisle in Congress, to support the Alexander-Murray bill. We also urge our legislators to continue to fund CHIP, improve the Veterans Choice program and address high prescription drug costs. Patients in Florida are in need. Ascension and its member hospitals encourage Congress to act now.
Jules Kariher is Chief Advocacy Officer for Ascension’s healthcare organizations in Florida.