On May 4, by a vote of 217-213, the U.S. House approved a bill to repeal and replace major parts of the Affordable Care Act. It now goes to the Senate, where changes to the bill are expected, meaning it would need to clear the House again.
The House-passed bill could leave cancer patients, survivors and those at risk for the disease unable to access or keep quality health insurance. The bill would create a coverage patchwork whereby patients with pre-existing conditions could be charged more for their coverage while simultaneously weakening the rules for what health services will be covered.
“There is no denying that current law needs improvement, however focusing on lower premiums for healthy people at the expense of the millions of Americans with pre-existing health conditions, including more than 16 million cancer survivors, is wrong, said Chris Hansen, president of ACS CAN. "“We call on the Senate to reject this legislation and stand ready to work with all lawmakers to develop policies that improve the law and encourage a strong health insurance market that provides affordable and comprehensive coverage options for those with serious diseases like cancer.”
Chris predicts that "the coming debate in the Senate will be a different and a more open process. We will continue to work closely with members of the Senate and our partners to craft legislation that that helps improve the law and guarantees uninterrupted and meaningful health insurance coverage for cancer patients."
Here is additional reaction from ACS CAN:
“Allowing patients to be charged more for coverage based on their health status risks making pre-existing condition protections virtually meaningless. A return to medical underwriting, combined with seriously weakened standards for what constitutes good coverage through the erosion of Essential Health Benefits, sets up a situation whereby payers can cherry-pick their customers and leave patients with serious conditions like cancer with few if any affordable insurance options.
“High-risk pools have not historically been an adequate safety-net. These programs have been unsustainable and underfunded. High-risk pool enrollees were often charged unaffordable premiums—usually 150-200% higher than the average standard rate—and faced potentially long waiting periods and strict coverage limitations; circumstances that are unacceptable for cancer patients and survivors who need immediate treatment and consistent follow-up care.
“Additionally, it is unclear how weakening the essential health benefits standards will affect cancer patients’ access to new therapies and key patient protections like the cap on out-of-pocket costs and the prohibition of lifetime and annual limits, both of which are applied only to essential health benefits. This bill could seriously weaken these key protections, jeopardize access to new therapies and leave cancer patients—both in the individual and employer-based market—vulnerable to higher out-of-pocket costs."
ACS CAN had opposed the bill and urged House members to vote "no" on behalf of the cancer community Provisions contained in the original bill that led the Congressional Budget Office to conclude that 14 million people would lose coverage next year, including elimination of the Medicaid expansion, remain as key detrimental provisions of the bill.
"Our volunteers and staff have done yeoman’s work over the past three months communicating with their lawmakers and staying informed and visible in this fight. I want to extend a huge thank you to them for responding to the call and giving it their all," Chris said.