Tuesday, March 21, 2017

EDITORIAL >> Obamacare repeal stuck

The House of Representatives will vote on a Republican health-care bill on Thursday, but passage is uncertain as critics in the president’s own party balk at a plan that would hurt the working class and working seniors who voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump.

The bill’s future is almost certainly doomed in the Senate, where at least 10 Republicans, including our own Sen. Tom Cotton, know the devastating effect repeal of the Affordable Care Act would have in Arkansas, where more than 300,000 people have benefited from Medicaid expansion. That is why Gov. Asa Hutchinson, along with a handful of moderate GOP governors, such as John Kasich of Ohio, oppose the American Health Care Act, their party’s proposed Obamacare repeal legislation, which would cause 24 million people to lose their insurance.

The American Health Care Act, the governors wrote, “provides almost no new flexibility for states, does not ensure the resources necessary to make sure no one is left out, and shifts significant new costs to states.”

Hit the hardest will be the working poor and their children and seniors between 55 and 63 who are too young to retire. Those seniors could see their premiums increase more than 800 percent, according to the AARP.

Here’s something else you might not know: Medicaid covers 67 percent of births in Arkansas, but that will change if in 2020 Medicaid turns into a block grant and is capped at current levels for states and their residents, whose benefits will be frozen even if health-care costs rise, as they surely will. That will hurt Arkansas, which depends heavily on Medicare and Medicaid to keep its hospitals open, especially in small towns and rural areas.

Thousands of nursing home residents and elderly folks living at home also receive help from Medicaid. Their benefits could run out in three years if their needs are ignored.

Obamacare repeal will not happen anytime soon as Congress realizes that taking insurance away from 24 million people is wrong and will hurt almost every state burdened with rising health-care costs. For a poor state like Arkansas, which receives far more in federal aid than it sends to Washington in taxes, it would mean a loss of a stimulus program that not only insures our fellow citizens but pays our hospitals for the services they render instead of writing them off as charity care.

Sen. Bill Cassidy, Republican of Louisiana, told The New York Times last week, “There’s a widespread recognition that the federal government, Congress, has created the right for every American to have health care.” He said throwing people off their insurance or making coverage unaffordable would only shift costs back to taxpayers by overburdening emergency rooms.

“If you want to be fiscally responsible, then coverage is better than no coverage,” Cassidy said. Just ask any hospital administrator in the area how cutting off insurance for hundreds of thousands of Arkansans would affect North Metro Medical Center, St. Vincent’s Hospital, UAMS and all the rest. Many would close their doors forever.