Health care bill, in current form, would erode safety net in our communities

Providence St. Joseph Health has a long history of working with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to shape policy that meets the health care needs of our communities, especially the poor and vulnerable. In the tradition of our founders, it is our role to speak up for those in need.

That’s why I recently sent a letter to our congressional members expressing deep concerns about the proposed American Health Care Act, the bill that Congress is now considering as a replacement for the Affordable Care Act.

As currently written, I believe the proposed legislation would erode the safety net in our communities and jeopardize the health coverage of millions of individuals and families.

Though far from perfect, Medicaid expansion is a critical component of current law, providing health insurance to those with low incomes. Without Medicaid, numerous people – many of them working – would be unable to afford health insurance and would go without the care they need.

To give you a sense of how important this program is to our communities, consider this:

  • Of the 72 million Americans enrolled in Medicaid in 2016, roughly 20 million of them live in the seven states served by Providence St. Joseph Health.
  • Of those, more than 5 million gained Medicaid coverage through expansion.

Providence St. Joseph Health is a strong supporter of broader enrollment in Medicaid because we believe that everyone has a right to quality health care. Our commitment includes subsidizing the cost of care for Medicaid patients. In 2016, Medicaid shortfalls cost Providence St. Joseph Health more than $1 billion, almost double what we invested in Medicaid the year before.

While we agree there is room to improve Medicaid and we support innovative reforms, I urged Congress in my letter to protect the gains our country has made in covering more Americans.

Access to mental health services

I also talked about the urgent need to support access to mental health services and substance abuse treatment for Medicaid beneficiaries.

At a time when there is already a severe shortage of behavioral health services in every state we serve, the bill now in Congress could have an adverse impact on these critical services. It could also reduce federal funding during economic downturns, when people are most likely to need support for mental illness and addiction.

Stability in health insurance markets is another imperative. We support many of the current proposals to stabilize the markets and appreciate Congress making this a priority. However, in my letter, I called on Congress to ensure private insurance is affordable to individuals who have lower incomes but do not qualify for Medicaid. I also called for premium tax credits based on income, not age.

No matter what happens in Washington, D.C., Providence St. Joseph Health will continue caring for those in need. But our efforts depend on people having coverage that gives them regular access to care. We conduct community health needs assessments on an ongoing basis, and they consistently show that when individuals and families in our communities have access to care, their health and quality of life improves. That’s the kind of society we envision for every person we serve, whatever their socioeconomic background may be.