Dr. Leana Wen: Baltimore City Health Commissioner Condemns New Senate Healthcare Proposal

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A Senate bill revealed today – the so-called the Better Care Reconciliation Act – is even worse than the initial proposal and will result in loss of healthcare for millions of Americans.

This plan maintains deep, devastating, and dangerous cuts to Medicaid. Millions of children, mothers, older adults, people with disabilities, and hard-working families will lose their health coverage. In Maryland, 1.3 million children, adults, and seniors rely on Medicaid for critical health services such as treatment for asthma and infectious diseases, prenatal care, glasses, hearing aids, prescription medications, nursing home care and much more. Gutting Medicaid would force families to choose between basic needs—such as paying for food and rent—and life-saving care.

In addition, this bill allows bare-bones insurance plans that do not cover essential health benefits. Essential health benefits are called essential for a reason. They include coverage for ER visits, hospitalizations, mental health, and preventive care. Allowing insurance companies to offer bare-bones plans for the healthy and complete plans for the sick, will effectively create two separate insurance markets. This strategy would price those with pre-existing conditions out of the marketplace, negating protections that currently prevent insurers from denying coverage.

There are some new provisions that sound promising, but actually are disingenuous ways to bleed those most in need. For example, while the bill today has additional funding for the opioid crisis, the new funding does not come close to covering the cost of all those who will be unable to get care for their addiction due to loss of health insurance. In Maryland, one-third of patients with substance use disorder are insured through Medicaid. These patients—and those who receive coverage through plans that guarantee essential health benefits and preexisting conditions—will be priced out of the ability to receive care. For the millions suffering from the disease of addiction, there is no margin of error, and many will end up overdosing and dying. At a time of a public health epidemic, this is an unscientific and unconscionable proposal.

The Senate’s new plan removes needed provisions for poor and middle-class Americans. Access to health is access to life, and this plan will result in the loss of lives. I urge our national leaders to stand up for the basic human right of health.

Dr. Leana Wen is the commissioner of health in Baltimore City. Twitter: @DrLeanaWen and @BMore_Healthy.

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