Without enough votes to pass the U.S. Senate’s proposed health reform bill, we’re still hearing calls to simply repeal the Affordable Care Act — including from President Donald Trump. If successful, an outright repeal would greatly harm Kansans and create instability in our insurance markets. This approach is not appropriate and is not a solution to the challenges we face.
We must move beyond efforts to repeal major portions of the current law and instead seek bipartisan policies that build on our collective successes, address ongoing challenges and improve our health care system now and in the future.
As a family doctor caring for patients in the Kansas City metropolitan area for more than 30 years, I see the health and economic harm that not being able to afford health care can cause in individuals, their families and their communities. As a matter of fact, six medical organizations representing more than 560,000 doctors in the United States have banded together to fight for their patients’ health. This level of agreement among physicians is rare.
If the ACA were repealed, thousands of Kansans would lose their health care coverage and thousands more would see their insurance premiums increase significantly. Kansas’ current uninsured rate is 10 percent. During the first five years of the Affordable Care Act, 137,000 Kansans who were previously uninsured got coverage. Between 2013 and 2016, 38,200 Kansans enrolled in Medicare and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Losing the ACA would lead to 198,200 of our family members, friends and neighbors losing their health coverage by 2026, adding significantly to that 10 percent.
The possible damage goes deeper. Repealing the ACA would return Kansas to a time when insurance companies could discriminate against patients based on their gender, age and health status. That means that the 504,000 non-elderly adults who have a pre-existing condition may not be able to get much-needed health care.
Furthermore, insurers would no longer be required to provide coverage for the essential benefits such as prescriptions, ambulance services or maternity care. Allowing annual and lifetime caps on benefits diminishes the value of every policy sold in the future.
Unfortunately, we haven’t even touched on the effect repeal would have on the health of rural Kansans. Kansas has 108 medically underserved areas. More than one in 10 Kansans live in areas with a shortage of health professionals — places with too few primary care providers, high infant mortality and high poverty and/or elderly population.
Repeal would make those shortages worse. You can bet that many of these medically underserved are our families and friends who live in rural areas. Not only that, but in the last six years, two rural hospitals have had to shut their doors, stripping away a total of 82 hospital beds in Independence and Great Bend.
Kansans can’t afford to ignore doctors’ advice. It’s a tragedy that many residents can’t even get that advice because there is no doctor in the house.
If all of that isn’t enough, repealing the Affordable Care Act would limit access to substance abuse treatment by cutting Medicaid. In Kansas, 329 people died of overdoses in 2015. That figure would skyrocket without access to affordable treatment.
Healthy Kansans are more productive both economically and in their communities. They are better able to care for their families, their friends and their neighbors.
Repealing the ACA would leave Kansans much worse off than under the current law. Kansans deserve to be valued and respected by having affordable, accessible health care. I repeat: This approach is not appropriate and is not a solution to the challenges we face — and 559,999 other American doctors agree.
Michael L. Munger, a family physician in Overland Park, is president-elect of the American Academy of Family Physicians.