February 24, 2017

Gov. Wolf: GOP health care reform plan is a 'nightmare'

A GOP proposal to overhaul Obamacare was leaked

Politics Health Care
Tom Wolf Marc Levy, File/AP Photo

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf.

Pennsylvania's highest-ranking Democratic leaders on Friday decried a preliminary health care reform plan that would overhaul the Affordable Care Act.

Gov. Tom Wolf went so far as to declare it a "nightmare" scenario.

The leaked plan, drafted by Republicans, would eliminate Medicaid expansion, dismantle subsidies based on income, remove the individual health care mandate and scrap all of its taxes, according to Politico, which obtained a copy. The plan also would roll back Medicaid spending but provide funding to states to create high-risk pools for people with pre-existing conditions.

Wolf issued a statement urging Congress to reconsider the plans, saying it would cut health care for millions of Pennsylvanians, increase costs for seniors and jeopardize health security for people with pre-existing conditions.

"The draft proposal that we are seeing for the first time today is a nightmare for at least a million Pennsylvanians and deeply concerning for our commonwealth as a whole," Wolf said. "We need to fix the Affordable Care Act, not force people to lose their health care causing chaos and uncertainty."

President Donald Trump made the repeal of the ACA, better known as Obamacare, a central part of his campaign. Republicans have fought to repeal the law for years.

With a Republican president and full GOP control of both legislative chambers, a repeal seems certain. But they had kept their specific plans for a replacement mostly under wraps.

The leaked plan, a 105-page document, mostly followed outlines that GOP leaders have advanced previously to show how they'd repeal and replace Obamacare. The plan has circulated among lobbyists and congressional staff since it was drafted two weeks ago.

Wolf claimed it would "rip access" to health care from more than 1 million Pennsylvanians while hurting "nearly everyone" receiving commercial insurance, too. He said seniors are particularly vulnerable, noting the proposal allows insurers to charge older customers up to five times as much as their younger counterparts.

"This proposal is not a replacement — it is designed to pull the rug out from under our most vulnerable citizens, including seniors, children, and individuals with disabilities, by slashing their health care and putting their lives at risk," Wolf said.

Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., called the proposed plan "scary" in a Tweet. Casey later called the plan "a disaster for middle-class families" in statement issued Friday evening via his press secretary, Jacklin Rhoads.

"It's clear that the emerging Republican health plan would mean higher costs, millions without insurance and more power for insurance companies," the statement read. "If jacking up costs for Pennsylvania families is the best that Congressional Republicans can do, then it's no wonder why they have been hiding this plan for seven years." 

Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., has long supported repealing Obamacare, saying last week that Americans "need to end up with a lot of choices, a lot of competition." He has not made any statements on the GOP plan leaked to Politico. His office did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Republicans plan to fund their replacement by limiting tax breaks on generous health plans people receive from their employers, according to Politico. The plan would provide $100 billion in "state innovation grants" to help states subsidize expensive enrollees.

The leaked plan stands as a proposal. Much could change as the bill is introduced and considered by committees.

"If it were enacted as it is, it would be a dramatic change," said Robert Field, a health management and policy professor at Drexel University. "It would substantially chip away at the Affordable Care Act. It would make the exchanges much less accessible to people, particularly to those with lower incomes."

The plan would make it particularly difficult for lower-income people who do not qualify for Medicaid, but do not have employer-issued health insurance, to find affordable coverage, Field said. At the same time, it would benefit wealthier Americans who have been paying the various taxes the ACA imposed. 

"I think, in addition to the lower income people who would be affected, ... really all hospitals have a lot to lose," Field said. "They'll have more uninsured patients and higher costs."

But Field also expressed reservations that the plan would get passed as it stands, noting former Speaker of the House John Boehner doubts the GOP would completely repeal and replace Obamacare.

"I think there's going to be a lot of dissension within the Republican Party," Field said. "This (plan) is significant because it's the only developed plan that we've gotten so far. But that doesn't mean that that is what will eventually be enacted." 

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.