'Uncertain future': Perry votes for health care bill

Jana Benscoter

The GOP-controlled House of Representatives on Thursday voted in favor of the American Health Care Act, the first step toward dismantling "Obamacare."

Gail Bumsted, of Mechanicsburg, shares her thoughts with U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, R-Dillsburg, after his town hall meeting Saturday, March 18, 2017, at Red Lion Area Junior High School. Amanda J. Cain photo

The vote was 217 to 213 and fell along party lines. York Republican Rep. Scott Perry voted in favor of the bill.

Now several local and state groups are expressing their disappointment that Perry approved a bill that "could devastate Pennsylvania families and care providers."

After an initial attempt was withdrawn in March for lack of enough votes, GOP House members went back to work to craft a new version of a health care plan that would replace the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama's signature legislation also referred to as "Obamacare."

More: A look at the House Republican health care bill

Since his inauguration, President Donald Trump has worked toward achieving his campaign promise to repeal and replace the ACA. The alternative approved by House on Thursday has been attacked by Democrats, who say it will be more costly, offer less coverage and exclude individuals with pre-existing conditions.

The proposal now goes on to the Senate, where its fate is uncertain.

'Broken' system: Perry, R-Dillsburg, supported the bill and issued a written statement after the vote.

“The Affordable Care Act is broken. Over the last seven years, we’ve seen less choice and skyrocketing costs for basic medical care. Five states and one-third of U.S. counties have one choice for health insurance this year. Premiums are up about 25 percent this year. Hundreds of constituents have shared their stories of how rising costs devastate their families and small businesses,” he wrote.

“For these and other reasons, I made a commitment to the people of my district to repeal the Affordable Care Act; and I have every intention of fulfilling that commitment.

“While it's important to recognize the American Health Care Act  does not repeal the Affordable Care Act in full, it is a first step, albeit an imperfect one. Recent changes in the AHCA will give states more flexibility to tailor health care policies to meet the specific needs of its citizens and help reduce premium costs over time, while explicitly maintaining protections for those with pre-existing conditions.

"I will support these changes but will continue my efforts to improve our health care system and lower costs for the hard-working people of the 4th District.”

Specifics: Perry went on to highlight aspects of the policy that were critical to earning his support, including added protections for those with pre-existing conditions, ensuring Congress has the same health care as everyone else and adding flexibility for the states.

The AHCA will specifically protect those with pre-existing conditions by prohibiting the denial of coverage based on those conditions and preventing insurance companies from rescinding coverage to this vulnerable group, he said. The proposals also  will prevent premium increases for these individuals as long as they maintain continuous coverage.

In addition, the plan creates a specific Federal Invisible Risk Sharing Program, which will ensure those with pre-existing conditions who need coverage can get access to care and provides $23 billion in federal funding to offset premiums and out-of-pocket costs in some cases, he said.

Perry reaffirmed his commitment to ensuring Congress does not have special health care privileges.

“Congress should have the same health care as the American people,” he wrote in his statement. “It's also important to remember that the Obama administration excluded itself from the ACA but Congress didn’t, and rightly so.”

He went on to explain that given the nature of the Senate rules, Congress was forced to pass a separate bill to close a loophole that originally exempted Congress from provisions of the AHCA.

“We had to pass two bills instead of one, but by passing both, we are making sure that Congress isn’t given any special benefits and we can still move toward improving our health care system,” Perry said.

'Uncertain future': Andy Carter, president and CEO of The Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania, said in a statement that the association's members were disappointed the House approved a bill that "could devastate Pennsylvania families and care providers.

“More than 1.1 million Pennsylvanians have gained access to health care through the Affordable Care Act, including over 700,000 covered through Medicaid expansion," he wrote. "In addition, up to 5.4 million have benefited from its protections, including assurances that a pre-existing condition will not preclude coverage. This coverage has helped patients secure primary and preventative services and manage chronic diseases and helped hospitals and health care providers deliver world-class care."

Because of Thursday's vote, according to Carter, "families across the commonwealth today are facing an uncertain future for the coverage they depend on for vital care. We thank the members of Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation who voted against the measure and urge the Senate to proceed with caution and protect access to affordable care for all patients.”

Jolene Calla, vice president of health care finance and insurance at HAP, said health care in Pennsylvania creates one in 10 jobs. With the estimated number of individuals anticipated to lose health care coverage, she said it will have a ripple affect throughout communities.

"The thing we are struggling with the AHCA, regardless of what's in and what's out, people are going to lose coverage," Calla said. "This is going to be devastating to Pennsylvania."

"U.S. Representative Scott Perry, left and state representatives Kate Klunk and Seth Grove tour KLK Welding Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2015. The legislators also visited the welding lab at South Western High School as part of program to train high school students for the workforce. Bill Kalina - bkalina@yorkdispatch.com

Indivisible: Indivisible Action Pennsylvania 4th District, Rising 4th and Gettysburg Rising are organizations in Perry’s 4th Congressional District, with more than 2,000 combined supporters. Those organizations released a joint statement:

"Perry’s vote will effectively strip 55,800 congressional district residents of their health insurance by eliminating the Medicaid expansion and ending "Obamacare" subsidies," they wrote. "An additional 18,000 people will lose premium assistance. People with pre-existing conditions like diabetes, cancer, asthma, heart disease, obesity and other chronic health problems will face huge, unaffordable increases in health care insurance premiums.

"A 40-year-old person with breast cancer could see a premium surcharge of $32,740; a person with diabetes would see a surcharge of $6,390; and a person with asthma would face a $4,950 surcharge. At those unaffordable prices, many of Rep. Perry’s constituents would be unable to purchase life-saving health care insurance, exposing them to catastrophic medical bills, worsening health and even death."

House OKs GOP health bill, a step toward Obamacare repeal

The organizations also argue the bill would harm Perry's constituents between the ages of 50 and 65 by allowing insurers to charge people in this age group five times the amount they charge younger people for health care insurance.

Gut punch: In a statement, Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pennsylvania, said the House "just delivered an economic punch to the gut of middle-class families in Pennsylvania.

"What passed today isn’t a health care bill but a scheme to cut taxes for millionaires and big corporations, a giveaway for special interests and forces middle-class families in Pennsylvania to pay more for their health care," he wrote. "This will throw Pennsylvanians with pre-existing conditions into a high-risk pool, forcing them to pay thousands of dollars more for coverage, impose an 'age tax' on older Americans and leave individuals with disabilities out in the cold — possibly without even the security of Medicaid coverage.

"It is outrageous to think that anyone would support legislation that decimates Medicaid — a program designed to help our most vulnerable friends, family members and neighbors. Where is the heart in that?

"It is equally disturbing that the bill opens the door to turning Medicare into a voucher program. President Trump promised not to touch Medicaid or Medicare and has betrayed those promises by supporting this bill. Instead of going along with far right congressional Republicans, President Trump should have worked in a bipartisan way to make health care more affordable for middle-class families.  Now that this legislation is coming to the Senate, I am redoubling my effort to fight like hell on behalf of families, seniors and individuals with disabilities who will be immeasurably harmed by it.”