Hundreds rally in Boise against health care bill

An estimated 400 people marched in downtown Boise Saturday to speak out against the health care bill now pending in the U.S. Senate.

The march concluded at the Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial, which Adrienne Evans of United Vision for Idaho called "a symbolic move to demonstrate that health care is a human right."

Boise Police Chief William Bones led a procession to the memorial. Boise City Council member Elaine Clegg presented an open letter from Mayor David Bieter to Idaho's congressional delegation. 

The Boise event was part of a national effort in 32 states called RISE UP for Healthcare.

"As the Senate unveils another egregious bill aimed at destroying our healthcare system, Idahoans are rising up to demand that Senators Crapo and Risch reject all efforts that target vulnerable communities, and subject thousands of people across our state to injury, sickness, and death," Evans said. "They can try all they like to ignore their constituencies, but this is a new day in America and in Idaho, and their actions only embolden citizen activism that will continue to hold them to account and demand better of them."

The bill and its status (from Associated Press reports)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Saturday night that he is deferring consideration of the GOP health care measure that would repeal portions of the Affordable Care Act enacted in 2010, during the Obama Administration

McConnell had planned action on the bill next week, but Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) announced Saturday that he would be staying in Arizona following surgery for a blood clot. In a closely-divided Senate, McCain’s absence put the measure in jeopardy.

The newest version of the bill incorporates a proposal from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) that would reorganize the market for policies purchased by individuals. As many as 20 million Americans get coverage this way – about half through subsidized markets such as healthcare.gov, created under former President Barack Obama, and state-run exchanges like Your Health Idaho.

Cruz would change basic requirements that Obama’s law imposed on individual plans, including standard benefits such as pregnancy, maternity and newborn care; wellness visits and mental health treatment. The existing law also requires the same premium rates for sick and healthy people.

Under the Cruz proposal, an insurer can offer plans that don’t comply with such requirements, provided they also offer coverage that does.

Younger adults and healthy people in the middle class may find more agreeable options, but low-income people, especially those living with health problems, may not be able to afford coverage.

Critics say the problem is that healthy people would flock to more basic, low-premium plans, leaving the sick to face escalating prices for comprehensive coverage.

“People with pre-existing conditions not eligible for premium subsidies could find themselves priced out of insurance,” said Larry Levitt of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The latest bill includes another $70 billion to help states keep health insurance affordable for older, sicker customers. But it’s not clear how that would work, and the federal funding eventually would end.

The American Medical Association issued a statement saying that Medicaid cuts and what the doctors' group calls "inadequate subsidies" will lead to "millions of Americans losing health insurance coverage."

The AMA says GOP leaders took a "positive step" by adding $45 billion for treatment to help victims of the opioid epidemic, but the AMA also says people dealing with addiction also need regular health insurance.

The AMA is calling for bipartisan cooperation, starting with action to shore up shaky insurance markets.

Some insurers are worried because of a technical change with huge practical implications: Health plans that enroll healthier customers would no longer have to cross-subsidize those with sicker patients, as is currently required.

Justine Handelman, the top Washington, D.C., lobbyist for the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association said the association thinks that is “unworkable.” She also predicted skyrocketing costs for taxpayers.

The Senate bill also made a major change to tax-sheltered health savings accounts.

Under the bill, the health savings accounts could be used to pay premiums with pre-tax money. Under current law, they can only be used to cover out-of-pocket costs, such as deductibles and copayments.

The change is meant to level the playing field for people buying individual plans, as compared to people getting employer coverage. The value of workplace insurance is tax-free for employees and tax-deductible for employers.

The change might encourage more self-employed people to buy individual health insurance policies, but some analysts say some employers may see it as an invitation to drop health benefits, particularly since the bill also would repeal the current requirement that larger companies provide health care or face fines.

© 2017 KTVB-TV


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