Local health care economist, insurance industry react to Cassidy's health care bill

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - There is a lot of back and forth discussions on social media, cable television and elsewhere over legislation Louisiana's senior U.S. senator is co-sponsoring to overhaul the Affordable Care Act.

And Thursday, a local healthcare economics expert and the head of an organization representing health insurers reacted to the bill.

"Do we have a health insurance crisis in the United States? In 2012, this is right before Obamacare kicked in, 48 million people were uninsured?" said UNO Professor Walter Lane during a midday lecture to his class.

The subject matter was timely given the discussion being had over the bill Sen. Cassidy is proposing along with Sen. Lindsey Graham.

"What we attempt to do is take all the dollars that are here in Washington DC, doled out if the state jumps through a hoop, and we return it down to the states for the states to do that which is best for that state," Cassidy said.

Specifically, the bill calls for federal block grants to be given to states annually to help people buy health coverage.

Information on Cassidy's website said the block grant dollars would replace the federal money dozens of states, including Louisiana get to provide coverage to more of the working poor through Medicaid expansion, which is part of the Affordable Care Act.

The Kaiser Family Foundation which researches health care issues estimates that a typical Medicaid expansion state would see an 11-percent reduction in federal dollars compared to an increase of 12-percent for a typical non-expansion state.

"It also redistributes it. Right now because of a bunch of states that didn't do the Medicaid rollout, didn't get the money. So, those states are now going to get more money and the states that have been spending a lot are going to get a lot less," said Dr. Lane.

"As we look at the bill in total, we don't join other organizations that have outright opposed it. The Cassidy language is definitely a work in progress," said Jeff Drozda, CEO of the Louisiana Association of Health Plans.

Drozda said there are certainly parts of the legislation his group likes.

"Those include the continuation of the cost-sharing reduction payments and that, in essence, is just basically what the federal government promised for the increased risk that the health plans were taking when the ACA was first implemented," Drozda stated.

And the Cassidy-Graham legislation scraps the mandates which require most Americans to have health coverage and large employers to provide insurance for their workers.

"The reasons the premiums in the individual market are so high is because all these people with the pre-existing conditions are going in and getting high-cost care and so the only way to balance that is to bring young, healthy people in which the mandates are supposed to do. Well, they're taking the mandates out, so from everything I can see, that problem is going to be made worse by that law and not better," said Dr. Lane.

"If you don't have that then the funding mechanism is lost and then you will have more insurers leaving the market, leaving the market, leaving states," continued Drozda.

Blue Cross-Blue Shield of Louisiana spokesman John Maginnis issued a statement which reads in part:

"Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana is reviewing the legislation that Louisiana U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy proposed, along with senators Lindsey Graham, Dean Heller and Ron Johnson, which would significantly change parts of the Affordable Care Act (ACA, the 2010 healthcare reform law).

Comedian Jimmy Kimmel accused Sen. Cassidy of lying about whether people with pre-existing conditions would be protected under his legislation.

"Cassidy's right in the sense that it does say that states are required by law to make affordable, adequate care to people with pre-existing conditions. The problem is interpreting those words," said Dr.Lane, in terms of being affordable.

"I'm sorry he does not understand. Under Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson, more people will have coverage, and we protect those with preexisting conditions. States like Maine, Virginia, Florida, Missouri - they'll be billions of more -- billions more dollars to provide health insurance coverage for those in those states who have been passed by Obamacare. And we protect those with preexisting conditions," said Cassidy, in response to Kimmel's criticism.

"Obamacare has problems, it's just that this bill doesn't solve those problems," Dr. Lane said.

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