Lobby groups to watch in Senate healthcare fight


http://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/333969-lobby-groups-to-watch-in-senate-healthcare-fight

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Lobbying groups opposed to the House’s healthcare reform bill are pinning their hopes on the Senate for big changes.

Industry groups felt largely cut out of the House’s drafting and passage of the American Health Care Act and now are clamoring for action to fix what they view as serious defects in the legislation.

Major hospital and doctor associations, for example, want people with health insurance to stay covered and are pushing to ensure adequate funding for the Medicaid program.

Characterizing this wish list, one healthcare lobbyist put it simply: “Coverage, coverage, coverage.”

AARP, meanwhile, is urging the Senate to start from scratch on a new healthcare bill. The powerful lobbying group for senior citizens believes the legislation, in its current form, creates  “an unaffordable age tax” for older Americans.

Here are the industries and groups to watch as senators write their healthcare reform bill.

Hospitals

Just a day after the House released its bill, the American Hospital Association (AHA) sent a letter to lawmakers in opposition — and that position hasn’t changed.

In a statement after the bill’s passage through the House, AHA President and CEO Rick Pollack said he was “disappointed” because the bill “jeopardize[s] coverage for millions of Americans” and “makes deep cuts to Medicaid.”

The association’s voice carries weight, as it represents nearly 5,000 member hospitals and healthcare systems and is the sixth-highest spender on lobbying this year, according to OpenSecrets.

About 24 million people would become uninsured under the House bill, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO). An updated score from the CBO is expected next week.

Other hospital organizations have also panned the House’s healthcare bill, including the Federation of American Hospitals and America’s Essential Hospitals.

Hospital associations want a bill that won’t result in millions more without health coverage and are looking to prevent the CBO-estimated $880 billion in Medicaid cuts. They say the proposed reductions will make it more difficult for hospitals to deliver care.

One hospital advocate said its group is having serious conversations on the policy recommendations it can make to the Senate to help protect patients and hospitals from the costs that could fall on their shoulders.

Healthcare providers

The fourth-largest lobbying spender this year, the American Medical Association (AMA), is also a vocal critic of the House bill.

On Monday, the group representing physicians and medical students sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) to “reaffirm the principles” that they say should guide any bill that changes ObamaCare.

Health coverage is a top priority for the group.

“Throughout the current debate we have consistently recommended that any proposals to replace portions of the current law should pay special attention to ensure that individuals currently covered do not lose access to affordable, quality health insurance coverage,” AMA CEO James Madara wrote in the letter.

The group is pushing to retain protections for pre-existing conditions and ensure states that expanded Medicaid under ObamaCare isn’t put at risk.

The AMA also says the new tax credits in the Republican bill for purchasing insurance should factor in income, geography and age. The House-passed bill only factored in age for determining a credit, increasing the size of the subsidy as a person gets older.

The American College of Surgeons, consisting of more than 80,000 members, didn’t formally oppose the House bill. Yet it had concerns about the bill’s access to surgical care and ability to let states opt out of requiring insurers to cover a list of 10 categories of services.

“Making sure that patients have insurance that is needed to making sure that they have timely access to surgical care was important, and I know will continue to be important to the American College of Surgeons as we review a Senate bill,” Christian Shalgian, the director of the group’s division of advocacy and health policy, said.

He added: “I think we’re definitely getting a receptive ear from the Senate. They’re interested in where we’re at with what they’re going to be doing in the coming weeks and months.”

Insurers

The leading lobbying group for health insurers, America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), didn’t oppose the House bill.

But it did see room for improvement — and was quick to provide recommendations to the Senate.

Just two hours after the House passed its bill, Marilyn Tavenner, AHIP president and CEO, detailed a few proposed changes in a statement. They included bolstering tax credits for lower-income Americans, older adults and those living in areas with high healthcare costs and providing enough time for people to adjust to Medicaid changes, among others.

Insurers also have an immediate request, though: getting certainty from the administration and Congress that crucial ObamaCare payments to insurers, to the tune of about $7 billion, will continue to be made.

The Association for Community Affiliated Plans (ACAP) did come out against the bill. ACAP represents 60 nonprofit safety net plans serving those enrolled in public health programs, such as Medicaid and the children’s health insurance program.

ACAP CEO Margaret Murray said the House’s bill, if enacted, “would cause considerable damage to our health care system.” Areas of concern included Medicaid cuts and phasing out the enhanced federal funding to states that expanded the health program for the poor and disabled.

“[The bill] will severely limit access to services for the more than 70 million people who rely on Medicaid for effective health coverage — and locks states’ funding to what they spent on Medicaid in 2016,” Murray said in a statement an hour before the bill passed.

AARP

AARP says the bill has an “age tax.”

The group, which represents nearly 38 million people, opposes a provision in the House bill that would let insurance companies charge older adults five times more than younger people.

This is a change from ObamaCare, which operates under a 3-to-1 ratio — a ratio that AARP would like to keep, said David Certner, AARP’s legislative counsel. “Already at 3-to-1, it’s quite expensive,” he said.

AARP is concerned that the change to the age ratio, coupled with reduced financial assistance, will result in premiums older adults can’t afford. The CBO estimated a 64-year-old making $26,500 a year would have to pay more than half of their income in premiums under the American Health Care Act.

“AARP urges you to ‘start from scratch’ and craft health care legislation that ensures robust insurance market protections, controls costs, improves quality, and provides affordable coverage to all Americans,” AARP Executive Vice President Nancy LeaMond wrote in a letter sent to senators Monday.

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