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Healthcare organizations criticize revised Senate bill for Medicaid, coverage cuts

The groups are criticizing several key provisions they say would harm the industry and consumers alike.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

Healthcare organizations are reacting to the revised Senate health bill that was released on Thursday, and so far the reviews are poor, with groups slamming several key provisions they say would harm the industry and consumers alike.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness said it was "deeply disappointed" that the revamped Better Care Reconciliation Act retains provisions it said would impose significant barriers to treatment and services for people with mental illness.

The BCRA, it said, features severe cuts to Medicaid benefits that would threaten access to mental health services for those who rely on them.

Medicaid is the country's largest funding source for public mental health services. One-third of people covered by Medicaid expansion live with a mental health or substance use condition.  Medicaid also covers 1.75 million American veterans -- nearly one in 10 of the veteran population -- who rely on this coverage for primary and mental health care.

[Also: Revised Senate bill keeps Cruz amendment for slimmed down coverage]

The BCRA will further worsen the mental health crises communities across the country are currently facing in homelessness, suicides and emergency room boarding, and places burdens on law enforcement, said NAMI. The group urged senators to reject the revised BCRA and to focus instead on small group and individual insurance market reforms it said are needed in many states.

The American Association of Retired Persons was also critical of the bill. AARP Executive Vice President Nancy LeaMond said in a statement Thursday that while the bill may have changed, "the results are the same: higher costs and less coverage for older Americans. We urge the Senate to vote 'no' and start from scratch on a new health bill that lowers costs and maintains vital protections and coverage that millions of Americans count on.

"AARP reiterates our opposition to the Age Tax which would allow insurance companies to charge older Americans five times more than everyone else for the same coverage while reducing tax credits that help make insurance affordable, and we strongly oppose increasing costs for people with pre-existing conditions," she wrote.

[Also: Senate worried about Indian Health Service's underfunding with Trump's budget]

LeaMond also decried the bill's cuts to Medicaid, saying they "would leave millions of Americans, including 17.4 million poor seniors and people with disabilities, at risk of losing the care they need and their ability to live independently in their homes and communities."

Betsy Ryan, New Jersey Hospital Association President and CEO, said the best way to ensure good health is to ensure consumers can access the services they need at a price they can afford, and to strengthen the quality of care in an effort to improve value.

"Too many people would be cut off from the healthcare services they need, and the skimpy health plans and lack of protections for pre-existing health conditions would raise prices for many," she said in a statement. "In recent weeks we have seen signs of improvement in the current insurance markets. In New Jersey, insurance customers will have even more choices as another new company joins the healthcare marketplace. We urge Congress to stop these machinations to force an unpopular bill to the President's desk and instead work in a bipartisan fashion to fix what needs fixing in the current healthcare law – without disrupting healthcare for millions of people."

[Also: BCRA would damage employment and state economies, Commonwealth Fund finds]

The revised bill released this week retains a controversial amendment put forward by Senators Ted Cruz and Mike Lee to allow insurers to sell bare bones plans to one segment of the population while offering coverage to the healthier sector at lower premium rates.

The bill keeps deep cuts to Medicaid, turning the federal entitlement program to state control that is federally funded. The funds would be capped per state based on the number of Medicaid beneficiaries. Planned Parenthood would be banned from the Medicaid program for one year; Also eliminated is Medicaid expansion starting in 2021, which was  adopted by 31 states and the District of Columbia.

Twitter: @JELagasse

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