UPPER MARLBORO – The county council weighed in on a national issue that could have real local consequences: the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
On Feb. 28, the county council unanimously approved a resolution in support of the ACA, commonly referred to as Obamacare. The measure easily cleared the Committee of the Whole by a 7-0 and was sponsored by all nine councilmembers.
“The Affordable Care Act was established to reduce the number of uninsured Americans, protect working families against insurance discrimination and improve overall health,” said Council Chair Derrick Davis. “There are large numbers of county residents that benefit from the Affordable Care Act and any repeal, without an adequate replacement, would place lives at risk - a risk we are not willing to take.”
The resolution was sent to President Donald Trump and Gov. Larry Hogan, as well as leaders in Congress and the Maryland legislature, and declares that the “county council vigorously opposes the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and replacing it with an alternative that would not improve access to quality, affordable health care for all of our residents.”
Specifically, the council opposes the loss of health insurance to any American, weakening of protections for those with pre-existing conditions, and reductions in health insurance subsidies for individuals and in incentives for states to expand Medicaid.
The council said approximately 200,000 Prince George’s residents benefit from the ACA, and credit the law for reducing the uninsured rate here by 50 percent. They also say it saved $311 million in costs from uncompensated care.
Davis said those cost savings and expansions in coverage have helped the Prince George’s Hospital Center and paved the way for the approval of the new regional medical center, which still faces funding uncertainty.
“We are currently facing the possibility of a reduction in state funding for the new Prince George’s County Regional Medical Center and a repeal of the Affordable Care Act could further jeopardize the financial success of this project,” he said. “We are urging the Maryland Congressional Delegation, Maryland General Assembly and all Prince Georgians to oppose and resist any weakening of the protections provided by the ACA.”
The resolution’s text further elaborates on the relationship between the ACA and the new hospital.
“The high amount of uncompensated care in the county and the region has been a significant factor in the past financial challenges of Prince George’s Hospital Center and Dimensions Healthcare System,” the resolution reads. “A significant increase in the uninsured rate and amount of uncompensated care in the county and the region due to the loss of health insurance coverage for working families because of any repeal of the ACA could undermine the ‘patient mix’ of UMMS Prince George’s County Regional Medical Center, potentially reducing the financial success of the facility and diminishing the quality of life of our residents.”
However, not everyone is as happy with the law as the county council. Republicans in Congress, and in the White House, have found fault with its individual mandate requiring people to have coverage or face tax penalties, the high costs of plans, and other aspects of the law. On Monday, the House of Representatives introduced legislation to repeal and replace the ACA.
“Obamacare is rapidly collapsing. Skyrocketing premiums, soaring deductibles, and dwindling choices are not what the people were promised seven years ago. It’s time to turn a page and rescue our health care system from this disastrous law,” said Speaker Paul Ryan. “The American Health Care Act is a plan to drive down costs, encourage competition, and give every American access to quality, affordable health insurance.”
The proposal removes the individual mandate and instead incentivizes coverage by allowing a 30 percent surcharge for people who have a gap in coverage, and offers tax credits instead of subsidies to help people purchase insurance. While it keeps protections for those with pre-existing conditions, it repeals the Medicaid expansion under the ACA.
The effects of the proposal on uninsured rates, premiums and other outcomes have not yet been evaluated by the Congressional Budget Office.
But some top Democrats predict the ACA alternative will not live up to its predecessor.
“President Trump promised that the Republican plan would ‘have insurance for everybody’ that is ‘far less expensive and far better,’” said Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-5), the Democratic Whip. “Instead, the legislation unveiled tonight would kick millions of Americans off their health coverage and force millions to pay more for less.”