State GOP law­mak­ers form ‘Oba­macare re­peal and re­place task force’

Mem­bers say LGBT, HIV-pos­i­tive in­di­vid­u­als will not be dis­crim­i­nated against

GA Voice - - Georgianews -

By DAL­LAS ANNE DUN­CAN

ddun­can@the­gavoice.com

Con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans are do­ing their best to en­sure the Af­ford­able Health­care Act will be re­pealed at the fed­eral level. Here in Ge­or­gia, state GOP law­mak­ers are do­ing their best to make sure the state is pre­pared for what they be­lieve an in­evitabil­ity.

“We do be­lieve it will be re­pealed and we’re tak­ing that as a given,” said Sen. Re­nee Un­ter­man (R-Bu­ford). “Whether the whole thing is re­pealed or cer­tain pieces, that’s a dif­fer­ent ques­tion.”

Un­ter­man is a mem­ber of the “Oba­macare re­peal and re­place task force,” an­nounced by Lt. Gov. Casey Ca­gle on Jan. 6.

Ca­gle said the group, of­fi­cially known as the Health Care Re­form Task Force, will look at ways “we can bring about a health­care sys­tem that is more af­ford­able and ac­cept­able to in­di­vid­u­als within our state.” In a news re­lease, he clar­i­fied the group’s mis­sion as iden­ti­fy­ing por­tions of state law that need to be changed and de­vel­op­ing ways to in­crease ac­cess to health­care.

“The task force won’t craft a new health­care sys­tem,” said task force mem­ber Sen. Ben Wat­son (R-Sa­van­nah). “The task force, to me, is to study the sit­u­a­tion and what will likely be com­ing, and get Ge­or­gia ready and pre­pared for that.”

Health­care re­form and LGBT ac­cess

At­lanta-based The Health Ini­tia­tive has field agents on the ground, get­ting peo­ple en­rolled in the mar­ket­place while it’s still avail­able. Ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Linda Ellis said that’s be­cause they be­lieve plans se­cured now will stay in place through 2017.

“Our best hope is that in ad­di­tion to all of the ac­tions that we and folks who kind of think like us are do­ing … is there is a grow­ing num­ber of Repub­li­cans, both elected and not, who are qui­etly be­gin­ning “Ge­or­gia can­not af­ford to pay for health­care it­self. I see a dis­so­nance be­tween their stated goal of in­creas­ing ac­cess to care at the same time that they’re seek­ing to dis­man­tle the fund­ing mech­a­nism to make that care pos­si­ble.” to add their voices of con­cern to the con­ver­sa­tion,” Ellis said. “Our hope is that as they get into this fur­ther, they’ll fig­ure out that they can’t re­peal it.”

Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Stacey Abrams (D-At­lanta) seemed wary of the task force and its in­tent on the day it was an­nounced.

“My worry is less about the dis­man­tling of health­care at large, which of course is a dan­ger, but it’s also what’s em­bed­ded in that, which is the idea that doc­tors should be able to pick their pa­tients, and that ter­ri­fies me,” she said.

GOP lead­ers balked at the idea that in­di­vid­u­als may be dis­crim­i­nated against be­cause they are LGBT.

“We’re not about dis­crim­i­nat­ing. We want to have every­one ac­cess to health­care and we be­lieve that we can do that,” Ca­gle told Ge­or­gia Voice fol­low­ing the Jan. 6 task force an­nounce­ment. “If there’s fear around any com­mu­nity rel­a­tive to dis­crim­i­na­tion, that should not ex­ist.”

Wat­son, who has HIV-pos­i­tive pa­tients at his prac­tice, said he thinks “some of those fears and anx­i­eties are un­war­ranted.” He said HIV med­i­ca­tions and treat­ment would re­main cov­ered; no one had brought up to him con­cerns about trans­gen­der iden­tity and re­lated med­i­cal pro­ce­dures; and physi­cians would not be able to se­lect pa­tients based on per­sonal be­liefs.

Un­ter­man, who founded AID Gwin­nett and says she makes HIV fund­ing a pri­or­ity in her Se­nate health­care com­mit­tee, echoed Wat­son’s state­ments, but said a re­lated con- cern is the cost of med­i­ca­tion.

“All the med­i­ca­tion [in gen­eral] is go­ing up at an in­fla­tion­ary cost. It’s ex­or­bi­tant. You can reign in the health­care costs, but if the phar­macy doesn’t fol­low suit, it doesn’t do any good to go to the doc­tor,” she said. “That, I don’t know what’s go­ing to hap­pen. That would have to be reg­u­lated in Wash­ing­ton.”

What’s ‘wrong’ in the first place?

Un­ter­man, a nurse by trade, said ACA has been a “to­tal dis­as­ter.”

“There is no ac­cess. ‘I can’t af­ford it; how do I get my pre­scrip­tions; I can’t pay my in­surance pre­mium.’ To me the whole thing has had a sig­nif­i­cant ef­fect on the econ­omy of the US and the GNP,” she said.

Wat­son said in Sa­van­nah, there are only two com­pa­nies of­fer­ing poli­cies through ACA. One does not have providers in the county.

“I have pa­tients that are af­fected; that have their in­surance through the ex­changes,” Wat­son said. “When I go to the hos­pi­tal, I see pa­tients that don’t have in­surance, so I think it’s im­por­tant for us as a so­ci­ety to ad­dress health­care.”

Ellis said they’ve seen those same chal­lenges, but be­lieves the an­swer is tweak­ing, not re­peal-and-re­place. One tweak she’d like to see is mak­ing the mar­ket­place more ap­peal­ing to insurers.

Though nei­ther sen­a­tor would share with Ge­or­gia Voice ex­actly what they thought a new health­care sys­tem might look like, Wat­son did say he be­lieves Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump will keep the prom­ises he made “within a week of the elec­tion.”

“He said that he was not go­ing to do away with pre­ex­ist­ing ill­nesses. He’s go­ing to al­low chil­dren, young adults to stay on their par­ents’ pol­icy up to the age of 26,” Wat­son said.

“The Af­ford­able Care Act is not per­fect and be­cause both sides couldn’t come to­gether and ac­knowl­edge that this was a good enough first step, there hasn’t been a way to make those tweaks,” she said. “My hope in those larger con­ver­sa­tions is that they would be open to tweaks that need to hap­pen to make this good start bet­ter, and that’s go­ing to re­quire putting par­ti­san pol­i­tics aside.”

Jan­uary 20, 2017

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