CBO estimates on GOP health care plan prompt variety of concerns - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

CBO estimates on GOP health care plan prompt variety of concerns for Wisconsin

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MADISON (WKOW) -- The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report showing 14 million fewer Americans would have health insurance next year, but that $337 billion would be saved as a result of the American Health Care Act is prompting a wide range of responses in Wisconsin.

Bobby Peterson, executive director of ABC For Health - a group that advocates for and helps low-income people find affordable health insurance - calls the CBO's projected coverage losses "staggering."

"14 million, that's the population of Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa suddenly without health insurance coverage. And so, that's a big deal," said Peterson.

The CBO estimates 24 million fewer people would have insurance by 2026.

While the AHCA is far from becoming law, Peterson said many of his clients are very confused about what they're hearing in the news about it.

"Some people think it's already happened," said Peterson. "We're seeing drops in coverage for people, because they're not bothering to apply (for the Affordable Care Act). They hear it at the coffee shop or the lunch counter. They're saying - 'oh, this is happening.'"

But the chair of the State Assembly Committee on Health said he's skeptical of that impact, as well as those CBO estimates on insurance coverage.

"The fact that you're not forcing people to buy a product, obviously you're going to open the door for some people to not buy it, right? So, there could be a decline there. Is it 14 million? That number seems very high to me," said Rep. Joe Sanfelippo (R-West Allis).

The CBO also projects some positives as a result of the AHCA, including a reduction in some costs for certain consumers.

"So it looks like at least these escalating costs we've seen in premiums, should level off and then start to decline," said Rep. Sanfelippo.

The CBO estimates a 10 to 15 percent premium drop by 2026.

But Peterson said that will likely be more than offset by people receiving tax credits under the new plan that are worth less than the current subsidies provided by the Affordable Care Act.

Rep. Sanfelippo said he's also encouraged by the projected savings for the federal government under the plan.
    
Most of that will come through an $880 billion cut to Medicaid, the federal/state insurance program for the poor.

"That's a bad thing for people with disabilities," said Peterson. "Most of the people on Medicaid largely are seniors in long-term care. So that's frightening."

While Rep. Sanfelippo believes it is too soon to draw the conclusion those people would be hurt, he is concerned Wisconsin will be short-changed under the new funding model for Medicaid the AHCA would implement by 2020.

Wisconsin didn't take federal dollars to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. As a result, the state's Medicaid population didn't grow like it did elsewhere over the past few years.

The AHCA will use 2019 enrollment levels to fund Medicaid in each state, meaning Wisconsin will likely get less money than most of its neighbors.

"We need to be vocal about that," said Rep. Sanfelippo, who believes it is one part of the AHCA that definitely needs to be changed. "It's like we're getting penalized because we didn't take a bunch of federal money and spend it. And that's disappointing that's the way the plan started. But hopefully we're going to see that change before it's passed."

But for Peterson, it's the cap the AHCA would place on federal Medicaid spending that's a much bigger concern.

It would stop federal payments at a certain amount, only allowing for inflationary increases going forward. That means states will have to fill the gap left by the federal government.

"The Affordable Care Act eliminated lifetime caps on insurance and the new plan supposedly will keep that. But with Medicaid, we're gonna cap it off so people could run out of health care coverage - which in my book or any book is rationed care," said Peterson.

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