Taking on the AHCA

The terms set forth in the U.S. House bill HR 1628, the American Health Care Act, pose a profound threat to the public’s health here in New York State and throughout the nation.

The Congressional Budget Office, whose estimates accompany legislation as required by law, issued estimates staggering in their ramifications on healthcare in this country. The CBO says that the bill would increase the number of uninsured by 14 million by 2018 and 23 million by 2026 — including millions in New York alone. In a decade, the CBO estimates, 51 million Americans will be without healthcare should the bill become law.

The AHCA would gut Medicaid, cutting funding by nearly half over the next decade, a whopping $831 billion reduction over 10 years. The New York State budget would be hit hard in loss of Medicaid dollars, by lack of federal funds and county funds at the same time.

The bill would also allow states to let insurance companies charge more for people with pre-existing conditions, effectively taking away insurance for this most vulnerable patient population, unlikely to be able to afford sky-high premiums. Age-based subsidies would be permitted, as well, giving insurers a green light to charge older people five times as much as younger ones, according to the CBO.

And those essential benefits, such as maternity care, mental health care and more? These would be up to the states and what insurers want to offer.

Outraged constituents

But this significant threat is being met head on by NYSNA members, other unions, public health advocates and other community organizations. After passing the AHCA, members of Congress who voted YES returned to their districts to find outraged constituents, including our nurses and others.

At a May 8 forum in Plattsburgh, Congresswoman Elise Stefanik (R-21) heard heated comments from audience of one hundred constituents, furious in their demands for an explanation of her vote. Her comments fell flat, invoking heckling at one point.

At a Town Hall in Busti, Congressman Tom Reed (R-23) encountered incensed constituents and numerous boos.

Town Halls targeted

In Whitesboro, Congresswoman Claudia Tenney (R-22), at a meeting with local realtors to discuss the housing market, was greeted by 40 demonstrators expressing their opposition to Tenney’s support for the House’s AHCA.

Congressman John Faso (R-19) has been particularly beset by backlash for his vote for the AHCA, as he conspicuously avoided a Town Hall. On the day of the vote, Faso received more than 3,000 tweets denouncing his support for the bill. At the Schoharie County Republican Committee’s Lincoln Dinner, he was met by more than 150 angry constituents. At a University Club in Albany event, dozens of people protested his healthcare vote. And in Amenia, demonstrators held a die-in at the Hudson River Healthcare Health Center to protest the Faso’s visit to the facility because of his vote. One sign read, “Died waiting for a Town Hall.”

Faso was not alone. Out of 238 House Republicans — 217 of whom voted for the AHCA — only 17 held town halls during the recess following the vote.

The groundswell of opposition extends all the way to Albany, with both Governor Andrew Cuomo and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman joining the fight for the future of health care.

Schneiderman and Cuomo, along with California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, are leading a national coalition that is intervening in a lawsuit brought by House Republicans to block billions of dollars in required Affordable Care Act subsidies that reduce out-of-pocket healthcare costs for millions of low-income Americans.

Assault on our practice

Schneiderman has also threatened another lawsuit, calling the AHCA “unconstitutional” and vowing to “challenge it in court.”

“It’s bad public policy,” Schneiderman said. “It’ll cost millions of people healthcare.”

Governor Cuomo slammed the House vote, calling the healthcare bill “an assault on women and an assault on New York.”

“Ultraconservatives in Washington have pushed through the House an unconscionable piece of legislation that threatens to tear apart our health care system,” said Cuomo.

Bracing for a version from the U.S. Senate likely to be little different from that of the House, NYSNA members will keep up the pressure. “The AHCA is an assault on our practice and on the patients we serve,” said NYSNA President Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez, RN. “Communities are rising up against this backward legislation and nurses are with them.”

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