The Senate health care proposal is only marginally better in terms of the number of uninsured Americans, compared with the House-passed bill it aims to replace, but it still would leave 22 million more Americans without insurance coverage, according to a June 26 analysis by the Congressional Budget Office.
The analysis raised voices of opposition from the medical community.
The CBO estimates that the Senate’s current proposal, named the Better Care Reconciliation Act, would leave 49 million people uninsured in 2026, 22 million more than if the Affordable Care Act remained intact. The House-passed American Health Care Act would leave 23 million more uninsured, compared with current law.
BCRA would lower the federal deficit by $321 billion between 2017-2026, driven by the dramatic cuts in spending on Medicaid (estimated to be $772 billion), as well as $408 billion saved from reduced tax credits and other subsidies to help people afford health insurance.
The CBO’s estimate also addresses how the bill could impact access to health care.
Initially, patients can expect another short-term spike in insurance premiums, with average premiums in 2018 increasing by 20%, compared with current law, “mainly because the penalty for not having insurance would be eliminated, inducing fewer comparatively healthy people to sign up.” In 2019, premiums are predicted to be about 10% higher than under current law; however, by 2020, premiums for benchmark plans would be 30% lower than with current law.
However, as premiums come down, deductibles would continue to rise for plans that would offer lower levels of coverage, according to the CBO report. Additionally, “starting in 2020, the premium for a silver plan would typically be a relatively high percentage of income for low income people. The deductible for a plan … would be a significantly higher percentage of income – also making such a plan unattractive but for a different reason. As a result, despite being eligible for premium tax credits, few low-income people would purchase any plan.”
The report also notes that the Senate proposal would not necessarily reverse current concerns regarding consumer choice in the individual markets, stating that “a small fraction of the population resides in areas which – because of this legislation, for at least some of the years after 2019 – no insurers will participate in the nongroup market or insurance would be offered only with very high premiums.” Additionally, removing the employer mandate could result in employers forgoing offering health insurance to their employees.
The bill faces an uphill battle in the Senate as there seemingly are not enough votes to pass the bill at this time. The measure is using the budget reconciliation process, meaning it will need 50 of the 52 Senate Republicans to pass it (all 48 Democrats are expected to vote against it). At least five GOP senators have said they are not ready to end debate and move the bill to a final vote, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) is pushing to hold before the chamber breaks for its 4th of July recess.
Medical societies are pushing back against the bill as well.
The American Medical Association, in a letter to Senate leaders, notes that the first principal that medical professionals operate under is to do no harm. “The draft legislation violates that standard on many levels,” according to the AMA letter.
The American Osteopathic Association reiterated its objections to BCRA in a statement, citing the CBO’s determination that 22 million would lose coverage.
“As patient advocates, we cannot accept that under [BCRA] patients in need will no longer have the coverage they require to access health care services,” the association said in a statement. “The BCRA does nothing to control health costs but instead focuses on reducing federal health care expenditures by cutting coverage of our nation’s most vulnerable individuals and eliminating policies that promote access to preventive care services that can actually drive down expenses while improving patient outcomes.”
The American College of Cardiology noted that CBO analysis “makes it clear that the [BCRA] would lead to loss of coverage for millions of Americans and limit access to care for our most vulnerable populations. … The ACC opposes the BCRA as it does not align with our Principles for Health Reform , which stress the need for patient access to meaningful insurance coverage and high-quality care.”