The debate in Congress over whether to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act has been put aside, at least for now. It is time for our federal legislators to shift their focus to other pressing health-care topics, providing at long last the opportunity both for progress and to work together across the aisle.
At Ascension Texas, comprised of Seton in Austin (including Dell Children’s) as well as Providence in Waco, when it comes to the challenges we face, we’ve seen success by segmenting those issues into their component pieces. This incremental approach enables us to define and solve major issues step by step. In doing so, we often generate better results by building upon smaller successes to achieve the ultimate goal. It’s quite possible this approach may work at the federal level on major issues as well. Now that the debate over wholesale changes to health care has been set aside, it’s time to focus on health-care issues that need prompt attention. Congress should focus on historically bipartisan issues that can be addressed in digestible pieces.
One significant issue that must be addressed is the need to stabilize the individual insurance market. We applaud the work of Sens. Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, and Patty Murray, a Washington state Democrat, in developing the Bipartisan Health Care Stabilization Act of 2017, also known as the Alexander-Murray bill. This important bill would shore up the individual health-insurance market, provide states like Texas more flexibility in covering our residents and allow more widespread availability of catastrophic plans.
It’s promising that the Alexander-Murray bill would strengthen the individual insurance markets and restore cost-sharing reduction payments which help make coverage affordable for lower-income enrollees. Incredibly, this bill would accomplish these goals while also saving taxpayers an estimated $4 billion. This work demonstrates the type of results possible through thoughtful collaboration.
Ascension Texas is committed to providing compassionate, personalized care to all with special attention to persons living in poverty and those most vulnerable. We also work to achieve 100 percent access and 100 percent coverage in our communities, which is why we are calling attention to several timely health-care issues worthy of focus.
In addition to addressing the individual insurance market, continued federal funding for the recently expired Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) is another important issue in need of immediate attention. CHIP is an important program to ensure that children who don’t qualify for Medicaid but whose parents can’t afford private insurance have access to affordable care offered by pediatricians, specialists and hospital care when needed. Fortunately, both parties have already launched the process to extend funding to provide coverage for lower-income children and we fully support these efforts.
Another pressing issue is federal support for Community Health Centers, which has traditionally received strong bipartisan support, and we are encouraged by legislation that has been announced. Regardless of what happens with the overall health-care debate in the future, Community Health Centers will remain an essential component of our health-care delivery system because of the important role they play in providing health-care services in underserved communities.
Two more issues — access to care for veterans and prescription drug pricing — require urgent action. Regarding veterans, in August Congress provided emergency funding for the Veterans Choice Act and continues to depend on bipartisan support for reauthorization. We strongly support this important work, which honors our commitment to those who served our country.
Pharmaceutical pricing continues to be a challenge, and several bipartisan proposals, such as the Creating and Restoring Equal Access to Equivalent Samples (CREATES) Act, work to eliminate barriers to generic competition which will ultimately reduce drug prices. Policies such as these help make important medications accessible to patients as well as slow the rate of health-care inflation — a goal supported by both major parties.
In Texas, we are also experiencing a “brain drain” waiting for the renewal of the 1115 Medicaid Waiver (Delivery System Reform Incentive Payment program). While we appreciate our Texas congressional delegation and governor advocating for its renewal, doctors and nurses hired to implement innovative approaches to improving the health of our community are being recruited away or leaving because the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) has not approved the Texas 1115 waiver.
While wholesale health-care overhaul may present major political challenges, these individual issues can be negotiated as important pieces of the puzzle. We call on Texas’ federal representatives and senators, with their colleagues across the aisle in Congress, to support the Alexander-Murray bill. We also urge our legislators to continue to fund CHIP, improve the Veterans Choice program, address high drug costs and forestall planned payment reductions to Medicaid disproportionate share hospitals. And we look forward to hearing soon on the 1115 waiver renewal.
Patients and families in Texas are in need and look to us for direction. We encourage Congress and CMS to act now.