Industry groups split on best way to get involved in Senate's healthcare reform efforts

U.S. Capitol with flag
Healthcare industry groups are weighing their role in the Senate's healthcare bill rewrite: Do they actively engage in discussion or take a firm stance to spike the bill? Getty/Andrea Izzotti

As the Senate’s efforts on healthcare reform heat up, industry groups must decide whether it’s better to play a role in rewriting the American Health Care Act or work to spike any version of the bill.

The American Hospital Association (AHA), the Federation of American Hospitals (FAH) and the American Medical Association (AMA) have all sent letters to Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Senate Finance Committee chairman, detailing elements they’d like to see in the Senate’s version of the bill. All three groups have openly opposed the Republicans’ healthcare bill since it was first unveiled.

Though the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) analysis of the House’s version of the American Health Care Act allowed the bill to officially be sent to the Senate, the upper chamber of Congress is expected to significantly change the bill.

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In the letter (PDF), Tom Nickels, the AHA’s executive vice president of government relations and public policy, wrote that, first and foremost, the group hopes that the Senate version of the bill will preserve the coverage gains made under the Affordable Care Act.

“We believe that any legislation needs to be reviewed through this lens, and carefully evaluated regarding its impact on both individuals and the ability of hospitals and health systems—which are the backbone of the nation's healthcare safety net—to care for all who walk through our doors,” Nickels wrote.

Even positive steps taken by Congress in areas like the opioid abuse epidemic and expanding behavioral health could be undermined if insurance coverage is taken away from millions of Americans, as the CBO projects, Nickels added.

Letters from the FAH (PDF) and the AMA (PDF) offer similar points, and are also in line with proposals sent to Hatch in a letter from America’s Health Insurance Plans. All three groups said they look forward to working with the Senate in crafting a new bill.

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In contrast, AARP is leading the charge on taking a more confrontational approach. The group launched a series of ads (one of which is embedded below) targeting five GOP Senators who may be vulnerable to voter pressure and encouraging voters to contact them in an attempt to flip those votes. The GOP can only afford to lose two votes if it wants to pass an ACA repeal bill through the budget reconciliation process.

The AHCA’s approach to subsidies in the individual markets amounts to a tax on the elderly, AARP Executive Vice President Nancy LeaMond said in a statement.

“The CBO analysis found that premiums would go up to unaffordable levels by inflicting an Age Tax and removing current protections for people with common conditions including diabetes and weight gain,” LeaMond said. “Putting a greater financial burden on older Americans is not the way to solve the problems in our healthcare system.”

Other healthcare consumer and women’s health groups have decided that a similar route is the best course, according an article from The Wall Street Journal. One lobbyist described it as throwing “sand in the gears” of the repeal effort.