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Cassidy-Graham bill will harm Arizonans

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A last ditch effort authored by U.S. Sens. Bill Cassidy, M.D., R-Louisiana, and Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, would deal a devastating blow to vulnerable patients in Arizona. Millions of Americans would lose their health insurance coverage, Medicaid funding would be slashed, key patient protections could be terminated, and even older Americans would see their premiums soar. This latest proposal is worse in many ways than the bills that were rejected by the Senate in July.  We strongly urge Senator McCain to vote no if this or similar bills are considered by the Senate next week.

Jo Ann Jenkins

Jo Ann Jenkins

The proposal would repeal subsidies that low and moderate-income individuals and families rely on to purchase health insurance and end a successful expansion of the Medicaid program in 2020.  While the sponsors are touting “rosy” financial numbers, the bill provides less money to support health insurance coverage than is available under current law. Another red flag is the lump sum payments to state governments only last for seven years.

Arizona and 30 other states took advantage of an opportunity to expand Medicaid coverage for low-income individuals and families. As of June 2017, 1.7 million Arizonans are enrolled in Medicaid and CHIP, a net increase of 45 percent since October 2013.  Furthermore, 79 percent of Medicaid enrollees in Arizona are in working families. This success would be sacrificed on the Cassidy-Graham chopping block.  To make matters worse, federal support for Medicaid funding would be subject to a new capped formula that fails to account for unanticipated costs of new medical innovations or the fiscal impact of public health epidemics. This cost-shift to state governments would result in profound reductions in coverage for our most vulnerable citizens, including children, the disabled, pregnant women and nursing home residents.

The proposal includes a waiver process that allow states to weaken patient protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions that would result in higher premiums and out of pocket costs for those who need it most. States would be allowed to waive Essential Health Benefit requirements, such as maternity coverage. Changes to Essential Health Benefits could also trigger the return of annual and lifetime coverage caps that were eliminated with the passage of the Affordable Care Act.

A long list of patient, physician, hospital and other provider groups are urging Sen. McCain to oppose the Cassidy-Graham proposal. Instead, we urge senators to continue engaging in bipartisan discussions to stabilize the individual insurance market to make coverage more affordable while increasing choice and competition.

Jo Ann Jenkins is the CEO of AARP

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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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