By Brittney Fairman, MA, MPS, Policy Analyst, ACCC
Last Thursday, June 22, Senate Republicans publicly unveiled their discussion draft legislation titled, the Better Care Reconciliation Act—their version of the House’s recently passed American Health Care Act (AHCA) (H.R. 1628). Neither bill was drafted under regular order, as Republicans try to maintain steam in pushing forward with the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Unfortunately, for multiple stakeholders, including many of those within the cancer care community, it is questionable how much the Republican Caucus sought patient and provider feedback to incorporate into their bills.
Although there was much speculation that the Senate version of the AHCA would undergo an entire re-write, the legislation released last week represents more of a fine-tuning of the House AHCA bill. Much of the Senate draft’s language reflects that found within the AHCA. The Senate bill contains various tax cuts for mostly high-income Americans; maintains the elimination of the individual and employer mandates; proposes less generous premium subsidies for those with lower household incomes; holds onto the AHCA’s similarly deep cuts to the Medicaid program—phasing out the expansion over three years and transitioning to a capped financing structure which essentially re-shapes the program’s funding; changes state adjustment-of-age bands by allowing insurers to increase the ACA’s ratio from allowing insurers to charge up to three times more for older individuals to permitting insurers to charge up to five time more; and still allows states to apply for waivers to overhaul their insurance markets (including the option of ending the essential health benefit requirement and potentially reinstating annual and lifetime coverage gaps).
There are, however, several notable changes within the “draft” Better Care Reconciliation Act signaling some improvement from the House bill. This Senate version would require insurers to cover people with pre-existing conditions and ban them from charging higher premiums because of their health history. But there is a caveat—there would not be an essential health benefit (EHB) requirement. This means that insurers would be able to offer less comprehensive policies that may or may not cover a patient’s treatment for pre-existing condition(s). Additionally, for individuals with household incomes between 100 percent and 200 percent of the federal poverty (FPL), authorized funding for cost-sharing reductions (CSR) payments would continue until 2020.
On Monday, June 26, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a CBO score for the Senate legislation that finds the bill would result in 22 million more uninsured Americans by 2026, relative to the number under current law. This is slightly fewer than the increase in the number of uninsured estimated for the House-passed AHCA legislation. According to the CBO score under the Better Care Reconciliation Act, by 2026 an estimated 49 million people will be uninsured, compared to the 28 million who will be uninsured that year under the current law.
A vote on the Senate bill is expected this week, leaving Senators with a relatively short window for reviewing the bill and also leaving stakeholders limited time to weigh in on the bill’s negative consequences for healthcare.
In a statement, the Association of Community Cancer Centers (ACCC) has expressed deep disappointment in the Senate’s draft legislation both in terms of policy and process, noting that the bill violates ACCC’s health reform principles. ACCC believes this bill would be devastating for cancer patients and their families, and urges lawmakers to vote against the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017. ACCC members can contact their Senators here.
Editor’s note: This post was updated on 6/26/17 to reflect release of the CBO score for the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017.