With momentum gathering behind the GOP-controlled Congress’s efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Gov. Charlie Baker is standing up for key patient protections in President Obama’s signature health care law and urging Congress to avoid moving so fast to scrap the law that it would disrupt insurance markets.
Baker, a moderate Republican, wrote to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy this week outlining his thoughts for how to “improve upon the goals” of the ACA, but stopped short of endorsing a full repeal of the health care law that was modeled on the plan put in place in Massachusetts in 2006 to expand access to coverage.
The governor said giving states more flexibility to tailor their health care systems to the needs of its residents would be beneficial, but called the expansion of health coverage under the ACA and patient protections – including a ban on insurance denials for pre-existing conditions, the elimination of annual and lifetime limits, and the promotion of gender equity – “important provisions” of the law.
The release of the letter, dated Jan. 11, comes as the U.S. Senate took its first vote in early morning hours Thursday to begin the process of repealing the controversial health care law known as Obamacare. President-elect Donald Trump has said he intends to offer a replacement for the ACA “almost simultaneously” with the confirmation of his nominee for Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.
Baker also cautioned against a moving toward a system of block grants to states to fund their Medicaid programs, which has been considered as an alternative to the matching-funds system that currently reimburses Massachusetts for 50 percent of its spending to insure low-income and disabled residents.
“We are very concerned that a shift to block grants or per capita caps for Medicaid would remove flexibility from states as a result of reduced federal funding. States would most likely make decisions based mainly on fiscal reasons rather than the health care needs of vulnerable populations and the stability of the insurance market,” Baker wrote.
Health care workers, consumers and advocates rallied Thursday morning at the State House to draw attention to what they see as the risks Massachusetts faces if Congress “repeals or guts” funding for the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Stephen Rosenfeld, the interim executive director of Health Care for All, said he was “very proud to see that kind of a strong letter from our governor.”
At a press conference discussing efforts to fight repeal of the Affordable Care Act, Rosenfeld drew applause from the crowd when he read a line from the letter citing Massachusetts’ “unwavering commitment to universal coverage.”
“It’s a very strong letter and we should be very, very grateful to Governor Baker for standing up so strongly for Chapter 58 and the ACA and our people,” Rosenfeld said.
– Matt Murphy/SHNS