Obamacare Repeal Must Not Cost Coverage, AMA Warns Lawmakers

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By Alex Ruoff

More than 300 doctors will meet with federal lawmakers this week to demand that ACA repeal not result in fewer Americans with health insurance, the head of the American Medical Association told Bloomberg BNA Feb. 28.

Members of the doctors’ lobby will take the message to members of both political parties as part of the group’s annual policy summit, AMA President Andrew W. Gurman said. The group is being careful not to appear to take a side in the debate over repealing the Affordable Care Act, he said.

However, the AMA’s message to lawmakers this week is that doctors won’t support legislation that takes away Americans’ insurance coverage. They’re also asking Republicans to show them their plan for replacing the ACA, Gurman said.

“We know that people who don’t have health insurance get sicker and die younger,” Gurman said. “As doctors, we are opposed to people getting sicker and dying younger, so we would oppose any change that would cause people to lose health insurance.”

Vigilant on Lost Coverage

This stance is likely to put the AMA, which has spent $19 million lobbying Congress in the past year, against House Republicans’ plan to repeal the health law. Policies supported by congressional leaders to replace the ACA could cause millions of people to lose their health coverage, according to a presentation given to governors over the weekend ( 38 HCDR, 2/28/17 ).

AMA members are meeting with lawmakers as the debate over ACA repeal begins to intensify. A leaked copy of Republicans’ early repeal plans prompted several conservative groups, including the influential Republican Study Committee, to outline their demands for changes to the health law.

Republican lawmakers differ on whether their ACA replacement plan will result in fewer people with coverage. Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) told the crowd at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) that repeal will likely result in fewer people with insurance, because many would simply choose not to buy it after the ACA’s individual mandate is lifted.

The AMA is among the largest players lobbying on health issues in Washington, with nearly two dozen lobbyists on staff who meet with lawmakers almost daily.

The group in 2016 gave more than $300,000 through various political action committees to Republican members of two key panels planning ACA repeal, the House Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means committees, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Looking for Details

Doctors are also seeking details of Republicans’ ACA repeal and replacement plans, Gurman said. The group has repeatedly asked House leaders to unveil these plans, he said.

“The AMA has been very forthright in saying we believe that the American public has the right to know what will be repealed before we talk about replacing the law,” he said.

AMA board members met with House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) Feb. 28 to discuss repeal plans. Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) also spoke at the group’s policy summit.

Changes Under Gurman

Gurman, an orthopedic hand surgeon from Hollidaysburg, Pa., was named head of the AMA in June 2016. AMA presidents serve for only one year.

Gurman said he wants doctors to become more politically active and advocate for both themselves and their patients. He’s encouraging doctors to engage with politicians on health issues.

“Just like providing quality care, this is part of being a doctor,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Ruoff in Washington at aruoff@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Kendra Casey Plank at kcasey@bna.com

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