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Health care bill returns country to ‘bad, old days’ of patient discrimination

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The Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association is not in the business of politics. As a statewide organization representing more than 80 hospitals and health care providers, our core purpose is to promote a robust and resilient health care delivery system in Arizona.

That means looking out for the people, patients and communities of Arizona, and advocating for policies that do the same. Which brings us to the American Health Care Act.

This legislation threatens health care access for up to 24 million Americans, while hiking premiums for older and sicker individuals, including those on fixed incomes. For those with pre-existing conditions who are concerned about the future of their health care, the American Health Care Act raises troubling questions.

Greg Vigdor

Greg Vigdor

Specifically, will states granted new “flexibility” to rewrite Medicaid programs turn their collective backs on individuals with pre-existing conditions? And who will pay for their coverage? The current legislation woefully underfunds the so-called “high-risk” pools intended to provide for people with pre-existing conditions. This legislation may bring a return to the bad, old days when the sick or injured in this country were routinely discriminated against through the medical underwriting process.

Medicaid is another significant unknown. The measure would slash an estimated $880 billion over 10 years from this critical health care safety net. A large portion of federal benefits would be rolled back in states, like Arizona, that expanded eligibility in recent years.

We don’t have to look very far back in our state’s own history to find out what happens when large numbers of people lose regular health care coverage.

It was only a handful of years ago that state lawmakers made the decision to freeze Medicaid enrollment of childless adults in response to the state budget crisis.  Approximately 200,000 people dropped from the rolls over the course of about 18 months. These individuals didn’t just disappear and they didn’t cease becoming sick or injured. No, they simply began seeking last-resort care and treatment in the only place that would take them: hospital emergency rooms.

Naturally, hospitals’ costs in caring for these individuals ballooned. Expenses not absorbed by these facilities were passed along to the rest of us in the form of higher premiums, a “hidden health care tax.”

The fiscal and moral imperative to expand access to quality, affordable health care is why, in 2013, Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association helped lead an Arizona coalition to restore our state’s Medicaid program.

Today, the results speak for themselves: More than 400,000 of our friends and neighbors have gained access to regular care. Statewide, uncompensated care at hospitals has declined by 60 percent, playing a part in the financial recovery that has hospitals and the entire health care sector helping lead Arizona’s economic recovery. In fact, a new independent report by Rounds Consulting Group, Inc. found hospitals statewide are directly and indirectly responsible for more than 176,000 full-time jobs and $24 billion in annual economic impact.

To be sure, the Affordable Care Act has real flaws. The law has fallen short of goals when it comes to restraining costs and promoting a viable marketplace of private insurers, especially in a state like Arizona. The Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association stands ready, along with our national partner – the American Hospital Association – to work with federal policymakers on thoughtful, responsible solutions to these
problems.

But we refuse to remain silent in the face of legislation that we know – from experience in our own state – will hurt patients and families, jeopardize hospitals and undermine the already fragile system of health care in this country.

This is no time for a rubberstamp. On behalf of Arizona hospitals and health care providers, we ask the U.S. Senate to take a hard, long look at the American Health Care Act, and then set it aside.

It’s time to start over.

— Greg Vigdor is the president and CEO of the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association.

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The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.

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(Photo by Ellen O'Brien)

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