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Shaheen: Graham-Cassidy bill is ‘unconscionable’

DOVER — U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., called the latest Republican bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act “unconscionable” at a roundtable discussion in Dover with professionals in the medical and addiction support fields.

The talk on Friday, held at Wentworth-Douglass Hospital, allowed the senator to hear how the repeal of the ACA, also known as ObamaCare, and the implementation of the Graham-Cassidy bill could affect medical care in the Granite State. The bill is named for its sponsors, Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Bill Cassidy, R-La.

The latest attempt by Republicans in Congress to repeal the ACA is a reconciliation procedure that allows the bill’s passage by 51 votes. However, the ability to use the method would expire on Sept. 30. Following the expiration, the bill would need 60 votes to pass.

The chances of passage lowered on Friday after U.S. John McCain, R-Ariz., announced his opposition. “I’m encouraged to see Senator McCain oppose this dangerous bill, and I hope to see more of my Republican colleagues follow in his footsteps,” Shaheen said in a statement following the roundtable.

Those participating in the roundtable were united their opposition. Hospital officials believe the number of uninsured would rise to levels seen before the passage of the ACA. Consequently, that would turn into more emergency room visits at the expense of hospitals eating the costs of many of those visits. “Virtually every hospital will be operating in the red,” said WDH President and CEO Greg Walker. He went on to say the hospital would have to pull back or eliminate grants it gives to other organizations in the community, like ones that help those with substance misuse issues. “It goes beyond the individual hospital. It’s really scary,” he said.

Shaheen said if the bill passes in its current form, Medicaid would become a block grant given to the states with no requirements to cover children, people in nursing homes and the disabled – “all of those people right now who are covered for their health care under the Medicaid program.” The bill would also not require coverage for substance misuse disorders or mental health issues, Shaheen said. The bill would allow states to make these kinds of decisions.

John Burns, director of SOS Recovery Community Organization, said recovery support organizations, like SOS, receive only about 10 percent of the state’s prevention, treatment and recovery budget. That makes up 60 percent of its budget, with another 30 to 35 percent through Goodwin Community Health and WDH, he said. Medicaid expansion makes SOS possible, as 75 percent of its members are now insured. Burns expressed concern that if the bill became law and Medicaid funding to the state is reduced, SOS’s three primary funding sources could be eliminated.

Kerry Norton, the operations director for Hope on Haven Hill, which provides a home for homeless or imminently homeless pregnant women who are struggling with drug addiction. Without the ACA, Norton believes the program could not exist. “All of our women are covered. They are getting the care they deserved and we are seeing amazing outcomes,” she said.

Shaheen noted that states do not have expanded Medicaid would receive more money than states that did. “It’s unconscionable,” she said.

Shaheen hopes the bill will fail so that Congress “can go back to those bipartisan discussions on how to deal with the uncertainty in the market” that were happening before the recent efforts to Graham-Cassidy.