Montana Voices: GOP health care bill could hurt fight against cancer

As a business leader, I’m a firm believer that everyone deserves access to quality, affordable health care. A healthier population helps curb health care costs, so employers like myself can continue providing health benefits to our employees.

Bill Underriner

That’s why I was proud to support Montana’s bipartisan efforts to increase access to health coverage through Medicaid in 2015, and why I now urge the U.S. Senate to take a more deliberate consideration of health care reform.

The House-passed American Health Care Act (AHCA) could reverse progress in fighting cancer and shift the economic burden for health coverage back to Montana.

What lawmakers deem reform are cost-cutting measures that shift financial responsibility to the statehouse—and could force Montana’s legislators into making tough calls on the type of coverage Montanans can access.

The AHCA could leave cancer patients and survivors from all ages and income ranges unable to access or keep quality health insurance. The available coverage could be significantly less comprehensive, which is worrisome to cancer patients whose survival is proven to be linked to insurance status.

The AHCA would create a patchwork health care system where people with preexisting conditions could be charged more for their coverage in some states, likely pricing them out of the market.  The proposed funding for state-based high-risk pools to cover this population is woefully inadequate to meet the coverage needs.

My family knows firsthand that quality health coverage saves lives. My son was diagnosed with a rare genetic anemia that required a bone marrow transplant. Luckily, we had good health coverage and my son is thriving today. No one should worry if they can afford or access the care they need to survive.

Affordability is a critical concern. The current law’s premium tax credits, cost-sharing reductions and Medicaid expansion in 31 states including Montana has made coverage more affordable for millions of low-income people. But, people in non-expansion states and families who don’t qualify for subsidies continue to struggle.

A recent American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network report on the costs of cancer shows insured patients could pay between $6,000 and $10,000 yearly for their care. These totals are based on current out-of-pocket maximums. Without these caps and with the AHCA’s much less generous flat-tax credit, patients’ costs could skyrocket.

The AHCA would slash nearly $900 million from Medicaid and provide states dramatically fewer federal dollars for Medicaid programs. The Congressional Budget Office estimates 14 million people would lose Medicaid coverage. An independent analysis commissioned by the Montana Healthcare Foundation projects that the AHCA would cut $4.8 billion from Montana’s Medicaid program and leave more than 70,000 adults currently enrolled through our recent Medicaid expansion without coverage by 2026.

While the current law needs improvement, its greatest achievement has been enabling millions of previously uninsured people to gain coverage that meets their needs. The Senate should build on that base instead of relying upon the flawed House bill as their starting point.

Access to quality, affordable health care is essential to saving lives and reducing cancer’s burden on our families, our state and our nation. We cannot return to a system where cancer patients are unable to obtain or afford quality care. And Montana cannot afford a health system that shifts the economic burden of care back to our state.

Bill Underriner is president of Underriner Motors in Billings and is a national board member of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.