“As you can imagine, it was hard to write a speech and talk about uncertainty without knowing what would happen with the (Graham-Cassidy Obamacare repeal) bill,” said Kennedy. On Sept. 25, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell withdrew the controversial bill after Sen. Susan Collins of Maine withdrew her support for it.
“At the 50,000-foot level, there is a recognition that ACA is working and working well where there is a community commitment. We see the impact in Detroit, and across Michigan as uninsured rates are going down and populations are affected,” Kennedy said.
In Michigan and in many states, Obamacare has been a strong economic driver that has helped the health care industry and has benefited society, Kennedy said. Nearly 1 million Michiganders have added either Medicaid or private insurance coverage, lowering the uninsured rate from 13 percent in 2010 to 6 percent last year.
“The challenges in Detroit are different than in Boston or Texas,” he said.
Kennedy acknowledged that Obamacare needs to be improved and benefits have been uneven in some parts of the country, especially the 18 states that haven’t expanded Medicaid. He said also Republican efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare have sidetracked necessary improvement efforts.
After Graham-Cassidy failed, Kennedy said Congress began working on other critical health care bills that had languished. He expects the House to soon pass the CHIP reauthorization bill that will enable 9 million children nationally and 90,000 in Michigan to keep Medicaid coverage.
He said another bill to reauthorize health center funding also is expected to pass out of the House. The Senate is expected to pass both bills.
But he isn’t sure whether there is enough support in the House to pass a critical bill that would lower private individual health insurance premiums for millions of low-income people. Currently, Sens. Patty Murray and Lamar Alexander are working on the bill that would provide $7 billion in “cost-sharing reduction” subsidies to help pay for out-of-pocket private insurance costs.
If the bill isn’t approved, individual health insurance rates in Michigan could increase an average of nearly 30 percent for 2018, according to the state insurance department. With the bill, individual rates could still rise an average of 20 percent.
“There is a political game that is being played” in Washington, said Kennedy, a former federal prosecutor who is a member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee.
“The Senate is very close to a deal, but the House, despite the polarization, when a variety of dangerous bills that would have done extraordinary damage to health system, the public flexed and defeated those bills,” Kennedy said. “Now they have been defeated, the public needs to demand Congress take next step and fix (the cost-sharing reductions).”
Kennedy said he believes public outrage can prompt Congress to act.
“It is hard to get excited about CSR, but it will hit in the pocketbook and take money from American families unnecessarily and for no good reason,” he said.
Health Care Leadership Summit to feature Joe Kennedy