Federal Health Care Bill Particularly Harmful in Arkansas

The passage of the American Health Care Act (AHCA) by the U.S. House of Representatives will have a devastating impact on health care for Arkansas children and families. Congress rushed this through before getting an independent analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. That means that our nation’s leaders and their constituents have no idea how much worse the new version of the AHCA is than the previous version and how many more people will lose coverage. At a minimum, we know that the bill devastates Medicaid, cutting more than $800 billion over 10 years and resulting in at least 24 million more uninsured people within a decade. It will put many of our most vulnerable Americans at risk, including children, people with disabilities, and pregnant women.

The AHCA also places a cap on federal funding for Medicaid, blowing a hole in state budgets. This move doesn’t do anything to reduce health care costs for our state; it only shifts the costs and leaves state and local taxpayers to foot the bill. This arbitrary cap on Medicaid will put over 450,000 of Arkansas’s children in harm’s way.

Additionally, this measure opens the door for insurers to deny coverage for pre-existing conditions, putting kids with asthma, diabetes, heart defects, and other conditions at risk. The recent addition of $8 billion to fund high-risk pools doesn’t come close to covering the cost of care for these kids and other people suffering from pre-existing conditions. Even with these additional funds, the AHCA still falls short for people with pre-existing conditions by leaving at least 6.4 million children and adults without additional support to protect them from premium hikes and benefit reductions. The bill even turns back the clock to a time when insurers could deny coverage for life-saving treatments by imposing annual and lifetime caps.

We call on our Senators to stand up for Arkansas’s children, seniors, people with disabilities, pregnant women, families, and those with pre-existing conditions who will be paying a dangerous price if this ill-conceived bill becomes law.

Finally, our state health care system will take another painful hit. The AHCA rolls back the Medicaid expansion that has improved financial stability for many Arkansas families. About 300,000 adults in lower income groups are currently enrolled in Arkansas Works, the state’s Medicaid expansion program, which would effectively end by 2020 if the AHCA becomes law.

Also, just one day before the disappointing federal vote on the AHCA, lawmakers in Arkansas voted to cut Arkansas Works health care for 60,000 people who are working but are still unable to afford coverage. State leaders say they will able to transition them to coverage on the Marketplace, but the future of the Marketplace is uncertain. As a result of the AHCA, many families will already pay more out-of-pocket costs for these health plans, plus face more costly changes to tax credits and cost-sharing reductions that help lower the costs of these plans. It should also be noted that Arkansas has managed to keep premium increases at a minimum compared to other states because of our unique Medicaid expansion program that put more people into the insurance Marketplace and drove down costs.

Arkansans stand to lose big if lawmakers continue down the current path with dangerous cuts to critical health coverage programs, especially Medicaid. The impact will be felt far and wide because the federal law threatens to destabilize the entire health care system in our state.