By: Michael Campbell, News Editor
July 25, 2017 | 9:37 a.m.
PRINCE GEORGE – As the conversation continues regarding the future of former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act legislation, the people elected by Southside Virginia’s voters have been pouring over recent data to understand the impacts any changes to the law would have on the region they represent in Washington, D.C.
Following efforts to implement a repeal of the ACA and replace it with a health care law the Republican Party believes is more in lines with what Americans desire failed after members of the party publically stated they wouldn’t support the measure, leaders in Washington introduced legislation that would simply repeal the ACA outright, known as H.R. 1628.
According to data provided by the Congressional Budget Office last week, H.R. 1628 would decrease the federal deficit by $473 billion over the next decade, but the number of people who are uninsured would increase by 17 million in 2018 and balloon to 27 million by 2020 and 32 million by 2026.
Additionally, the CBO projects average premiums would increase by roughly 25 percent when compared to the current law by 2018, reaching 50 percent in 2020, and doubling by 2026.
As a result, CBO estimates “about half of the nation’s population would live in areas having no insurer participating in the nongroup market in 2020” due to declining enrollment as the penalty for not carrying health insurance would go away and increasing premiums with “about three-quarters of the population” being in that area by 2026.
A key point of the repeal would affect provisions of Medicaid, which serves to help low-income and elderly populations in America, with over $800 million being removed from the program through the repeal of optional expansion of eligibility for Medicaid.
According to data from the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Service, over 1.3 million Virginians were enrolled in Medicaid in the Commonwealth in 2016, made up of children, pregnant women, parents, older adults and individuals with disabilities.
Efforts by Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe to expand Medicaid, which the Virginia DMAS says the state has “among the strictest” eligibility criteria in the nations, have not gained traction, even as over 30 states and the District of Columbia have.
In addition, while the Commonwealth’s Medicaid enrollment is heavily weighed toward children in low-income families, expenditures weigh more heavily toward the disabled and elderly populations due to their complex needs and use of “more costly acute and long-term supports and services.
The impacts of the proposed Senate bill could be felt in rural regions like Southside Virginia, where poverty is more prevalent than in northern portions of the state and features counties with aging populations who are more likely to utilize Medicaid services.
In an interview, Virginia Senator Tim Kaine said he has heard from residents in these rural areas about the proposed bill and through his conversations, he considers the bill a step backward in terms of efforts to increase access to healthcare.
“I’ve been traveling in rural Southwest Virginia this week and volunteered at the RAM Clinic, and during my visits, I’ve heard how Republican health care bills – particularly deep cuts to Medicaid – would undermine access to health care for communities,” the senator said. “I’ve also heard from many individuals with pre-existing conditions who are afraid that we will go back to the days when they would face unfair barriers to getting health care insurance.”
He added that a full repeal of the ACA would place a burden on state budgets across America, including Virginia.
According to the Virginia DMAS, due to the state’s tight eligibility criteria and lack of Medicaid expansion, Virginia is 47th in the nation on per capita Medicaid spending, “which means there are only 3 states that spend less per capita than Virginia Medicaid.”
Earlier this year, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the American Health Care Act, or AHCA, along party lines and featured similar impacts of Medicaid, with an early version of the bill projecting 24 million people to be uninsured by 2026, citing “changes in Medicaid enrollment—because some states would discontinue their expansion of eligibility, some states that would have expanded eligibility in the future would choose not to do so, and per-enrollee spending in the program would be capped.”
Congressman Donald McEachin (VA-04), who voted against the House’s AHCA bill along with a number of other representatives from the region, shared his thoughts on the proposed Senate bill following the CBO score’s release last week.
“Gaining votes by punishing more hardworking Americans is inhuman,” the congressman said in a statement. “Once Senate Republicans realized that they did not have enough votes to pass the previous repeal-and-replace bill, they decided to put forward a repeal-and-delay bill.”
For McEachin, who represents portions of Dinwiddie, Prince George, Surry, and Sussex, he said he has heard from a number of considered residents across his district regarding the current status and future of healthcare.
“My constituents have been contacting my office concerned about losing access to healthcare,” he remarked. “When I am out in the district, I am repeatedly asked to make sure that folks still have access to affordable health care and that pre-existing conditions are covered. I hear them loud and clear and I am doing what I can to keep affordable health care options available to all constituents,”
When asked about what he sees as the possible impacts of the ACA’s repeal on southern Virginia, McEachin said it would force more Virginians to “make the difficult decision between paying their bills and seeking potentially life-saving health care or medications.”
“No one should have to choose between bankruptcy or losing their home or feeding his or her kids and receiving health care,” the congressman continued. Repealing the ACA could make preventive care – such as children’s check-ups – a distant memory for some families.”
As Senate lawmakers continue to work on health care in Washington, with President Donald Trump asking members to remain in D.C. and forgo their summer recess until some action is taken on the matter, Kaine said he is working to address the concerns of the constituents he represents.
“Something we’ve seen in Virginia due to the uncertainty around health care caused by the Trump Administration is insurers leaving the individual marketplace,” he explained, referring to some insurers, including most notably Aetna, announcing they will not offer Obamacare plans in the state in coming years.
“In order to fix this problem, I’ve introduced a bill that would help stabilize the individual health care marketplace and lower premiums by creating a permanent reinsurance program, similar to the successful program used to lower premiums and spur competition in the Medicare Part D program,” he said.
Along with Kaine, McAuliffe and a group of governors have asked the Senate to reject the proposed bill to repeal and replace at a later time.
“The best next step is for both parties to come together and do what we can all agree on: fix our unstable insurance markets,” the statement from a bipartisan group of governors said. “Going forward, it is critically important that governors are brought to the table to provide input, and we stand ready to work with lawmakers in an open, bipartisan way to provide better insurance for all Americans.”
“The only way to get healthcare right in this country is for both parties to work together on real solutions for all Americans,” Kaine closed.
The Senate is expected to vote on the ACA repeal sometime this week.