As U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan attempts to secure votes in support of the American Health Care Act (AHCA), National Farmers Union (NFU) is reiterating its opposition to the bill. The legislation has worsened since being introduced in late March, now risking even less protection for family farmers and rural Americans, especially those with preexisting conditions.
“The most recent amendments to the AHCA only move the bill further away from NFU’s member-driven policy of affirming ‘the right of all Americans to have access to affordable, quality health care,’” said NFU President Roger Johnson. “We will judge any new bill on the basis of whether it is going to cover more people or fewer people. We don’t want to go backwards, and this legislation clearly moves us in the wrong direction.”
The modification to the bill is the MacArthur Amendment, which lessens protections for people with preexisting conditions. The amendment grants states the right to opt out of the law’s essential health benefits clause and to change the community rating provision, thus allowing insurers to charge higher premiums to those with preexisting conditions who let their coverage lapse.
“This would force a large number of farmers in many states into high-risk pools,” said Johnson. “Estimates show that the risk pools would be underfunded by as much as $200 billion. This would leave individuals with preexisting conditions to contend with increased premiums, higher deductibles and longer waiting periods for coverage.”
Johnson sent a letter to members of Congress today, highlighting this concern and reiterating NFU’s primary concerns with the original proposed legislation. In particular, NFU stands strongly against the bill’s inclusion of a cap on Medicaid, reforms to the healthcare marketplace, and the proposed system of basing premium subsidies on a person’s age, rather than their income.
“The expansion of Medicaid has proven beneficial to rural communities, where the rate of enrollment is higher than in urban America,” said Johnson. “The Health Insurance Marketplace under current law, while certainly in need of stabilizing measures, makes coverage more accessible for many farm families.”
Johnson pointed out that the correlation between a strong Medicaid program and the success of rural hospitals has become evident during the influx of rural hospital closures over the last six years.
“Seventy-eight rural hospitals have closed since 2010 with over 80% of those located in states that opted out of the Medicaid expansion,” noted Johnson. “With another 673 hospitals at risk of closure, the AHCA’s proposed Medicaid cap could have devastating consequences for rural communities.”
The AHCA’s proposed system of basing subsidies on age instead of income is particularly troublesome for small farms and younger farmers, noted Johnson. In 2012, 75 percent of farms sold less than $50,000 in agricultural products and 57% had sales less than $10,000. “Young farm families that don’t receive additional income or health benefits from off-farm jobs would find it extremely difficult to purchase health insurance.”
“The proposed legislation would also hurt older farmers,” said Johnson. “Easing restrictions on what insurance companies can charge older customers will leave older farmers facing increased premiums of thousands of dollars.”
“While there is certainly room for improvement in current policy, the American Health Care Act will only hurt family farmers and rural communities across the country. NFU requests that you oppose the proposed legislation.”