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Advocates: GOP health plan would hurt North Dakota's most vulnerable

FARGO - Advocates representing a coalition of groups opposed to the latest Republican plan to overhaul the Affordable Care Act said the legislation would harm the most vulnerable North Dakotans by making health insurance too costly or impossible ...

Ryan Taylor, one of the advocates in a coalition of groups opposed to the Cassidy-Graham GOP health care bill, speaks at a news conference Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017, in Fargo. Representatives from AARP, North Dakota Farmers Unioin, North Dakota AFL-CIO and the North Dakota Women's Network urged defeat of the bill, which was withdrawn. Patrick Springer / The Forum
Ryan Taylor, one of the advocates in a coalition of groups opposed to the Cassidy-Graham GOP health care bill, speaks at a news conference Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017, in Fargo. Representatives from AARP, North Dakota Farmers Unioin, North Dakota AFL-CIO and the North Dakota Women's Network urged defeat of the bill, which was withdrawn. Patrick Springer / The Forum

FARGO - Advocates representing a coalition of groups opposed to the latest Republican plan to overhaul the Affordable Care Act said the legislation would harm the most vulnerable North Dakotans by making health insurance too costly or impossible to obtain.

The pleas to kill the measure came just hours before U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the Senate majority leader, decided to pull the legislation because it lacked the votes to pass. U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., supported the legislation, while U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., opposed it.

Before the GOP bill's collapse, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released a preliminary analysis concluding that millions of people would lose their health insurance, including many who would no longer be covered by Medicaid.

"I hope Sen. Hoeven hears the message that the most vulnerable people are not going to receive the care they need to lead healthy lives," said Jennifer Restemayer of West Fargo, whose 16-year-old daughter has a rare genetic disorder requiring complex and costly care.

Before the Affordable Care Act (ACA) became law, Restemayer's daughter had reached $1.75 million of her insurance policy's $2 million lifetime limit. The ACA bans lifetime or annual caps, but critics said the GOP plan would enable them.

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Those speaking against the so-called Cassidy-Graham GOP bill also said it would eliminate the 10 essential health benefits which must be covered under the ACA, including maternity care and preventive care, including cancer screening.

Kathi Schwan, president of North Dakota AARP, said the Republican bill would result in health insurance premium "price gouging" against older North Dakotans. The bill would enable states to allow insurers to charge seniors as much as five, six or even seven times the amounts younger people are charged.

"Plainly put, it's a bad bill," she said, adding that the law would allow pre-existing conditions to factor into premium rates, a practice not permitted by the ACA.

Also, under the ACA, older health insurance customers can be charged only three times as much as their younger counterparts, Schwan said.

An estimated 47,000 North Dakotans would lose health coverage under the Graham-Cassidy bill, according to a projection by the left-leaning Center for American Progress. The bill would repeal tax credits that more than 17,000 middle-income North Dakotans use to make their health insurance affordable, according to the congressional Joint Economic Committee.

The Kaiser Family Foundation estimated that the Medicaid block grants that would be created under Cassidy-Graham would cost North Dakota $233 million from 2020 to 2026 and $398 million beginning in 2027.

Waylon Hedgaard, president of North Dakota AFL-CIO, criticized the secrecy and lack of public input that shaped the GOP health bill, which he said "does nothing to help working people in the state."

"This is not good government," Hedgaard said. "This is shamefully placing the need for a win over our need for good government."

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Heitkamp applauded the bill's defeat, and said she stands ready to work on bipartisan health reform. "The Graham-Cassidy health care bill would have been bad for North Dakota and made health care less accessible and less affordable," she said.

Hoeven praised the bill, which he said would increase funding for North Dakota by about $700 million between 2020-2026, and save $372 million in state funding required for Medicaid expansion.

"Obamacare has raised health care costs and limited choice, which is why we're working to provide relief for American families," Hoeven said in a statement. "We need to reform our health care system to provide Americans with access to patient-centered health care and health insurance at an affordable rate."

Related Topics: HEIDI HEITKAMPHEALTH
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