Arizona Physician

Arizona Physician

Congressional Corner with U.S. Representative Tom O’Halleran

Improve our health care system, not step backward

As a new member of Congress, a top priority is working across the aisle to protect access to health care, especially in Arizona’s rural communities. The future of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) continues to be one of the biggest concerns I hear from my constituents. Every day, my office is flooded with calls from patients, doctors, hospitals, and business owners who voice their opinion as Congress debates repealing the law.

The ACA has brought improved access to care in rural communities, coverage for low-income and middle-income families, benefits for Native American tribes, preventative health care for women, and lower costs for seniors.  These improvements are critical to my constituents. We cannot afford to roll these advances back.

Rural communities are receiving a much-needed investment in care because of the ACA. From telemedicine to mobile clinics, pilot programs are expanding access to health services for Americans across the country. New programs like Teaching Health Centers are tackling provider shortage by offering medical residents more opportunities to train in rural areas, knowing that residents are more likely to stay and practice where they train. Medical facilities across rural Arizona rely on these programs to make their communities healthier.

In addition to expanding access to care, the ACA has reduced prices for families and seniors. By closing the “Donut Hole” in Medicare Part D, the ACA has lowered out-of-pocket prescription costs. Since 2010, over 94,000 seniors in Arizona have saved over $470 million on prescription drugs, with an average beneficiary saving of $1,047 per year. Seniors now receive coverage for annual wellness visits, and the law eliminates cost sharing for recommended preventive services and screenings like breast and colon cancer. In 2015, 70% of Arizona seniors enrolled in Medicare Part B used at least one preventive service. These changes keep seniors healthy and lower costs to the taxpayer.

The American Hospital Association has warned that a full ACA repeal without a replacement would have a disproportionately negative impact on rural hospitals and facilities. We cannot risk losing these medical facilities, the jobs they create, or the critical access they provide to rural Arizonans.

A repeal of the ACA would especially harm tribal communities.  The ACA provides critical improvements and investments for American Indians and Alaska Natives, who have long faced wide health disparities and barriers to care. The law permanently reauthorized the Indian Health Care Improvement Act (IHCIA), the reauthorization of which had languished for over a decade. The IHCIA provides programs for mental and behavioral health treatment, expanded care for tribal veterans, reimbursements for patient travel costs, and funding for urban Indian health centers. A complete repeal of the ACA would endanger the progress we have made and undermine our commitment to First American communities.

I recently had the honor to meet with Jeff Jeans, a Republican small-business owner from Sedona. At 49, Jeff’s life changed forever when he was suddenly diagnosed with cancer. Thanks to key ACA provisions, like guaranteed coverage for people with preexisting medical conditions, and no lifetime or annual insurance limits, he was able to get the treatment he needed to save his life. Jeff is now cancer-free, and he bravely shared his story on national television during a CNN town hall with Speaker Paul Ryan. Jeff’s courage to speak out reminds us all that we must work together to put good policy before politics.

While repeal is not the answer, we must address the shortcomings of the ACA.  I am committed to working with Republicans and Democrats to address them. For example, I support legislation to repeal the law’s medical device and health insurance taxes that disproportionately harm small businesses.  We also need to address areas of our health care system that the ACA has not improved, such as price transparency, prescription drug prices, and long-term care. Tackling these issues head-on will lower the overall cost of health care in America and incentivize innovation.

We cannot go back to the days when insurance companies could deny coverage to sick children or patients with chronic health conditions like diabetes or cancer, or when women could be charged more for the same health coverage as men.  We also cannot allow the investments made in the ACA to go unfunded, which would leave our rural communities without access to care.

I am committed to working with our medical community – hospitals, doctors, clinics, patients, and advocates – to innovate and improve health care affordability for all families. Partisan politics should not get in the way of improving our health care system. Improving our health care system is the fiscally responsible thing to do, but this is not a discussion of spreadsheets and numbers alone. We must remember that decisions made in Washington impact families and businesses in Arizona and elsewhere.

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