The Affordable Health Care Act (AHCA or “Trumpcare”) will cut 24 million from insurance by 2026 including 410,600 from Colorado (use this interactive feature to see how many will be impacted in your state). Colorado’s own Senator Cory Gardner has expressed his reservations about the 14 million projected to lose Medicaid, describing Medicaid as providing “access to life-saving health care services” for the 1.3 million Coloradans—and 72 million Americans—who get their insurance through Medicaid, including the Medicaid expansion part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Given the ominous projections about the AHCA’s impact compared to staying with the ACA, how did Republican legislators end up with such a destructive bill after 8 years of decrying the disastrous results of the ACA? The unfortunate reality of what the ACA-to-AHCA transition would mean highlights the accomplishments of the ACA as it is on the verge of elimination: it has improved healthcare access and outcomes for millions of Americans.
The mythology on which the Republican members of congress have based their anti-ACA rhetoric is exemplified by the talking points used by our Colorado legislators. Senator Gardner has reiterated his anti-ACA talking points in his two recent tele-town halls. As he has before, Senator Gardner gave three arguments for why the ACA must be repealed:
- Health insurance premiums in Colorado are rising because of the ACA
- Coloradans lost their health insurance because of the ACA
- Coloradans can’t access their doctor because of the ACA
Each argument bent the truth, casting the ACA as causing the problem rather than what the data shows it is: part of the solution. If the ACA did not cause the problem, repeal is not the solution.
- Premiums are rising. True, but we don’t know how much is due to the ACA and the rise is exaggerated. Premiums were rising before the ACA. This year’s rise brought lower-than-predicted premiums into line with the 2017 rates predicted by the CBO in 2009. The 400% rise cited by Senator Gardner in both tele town halls– of “people whose premium rose from $300 to $1500 a month”—grossly overstates the average rise of 20.4% in Colorado–an increase that primarily impacts those who buy individual policies—about 3% of the population–and is often offset by subsidies.
- Hundreds of thousands of Coloradans lost insurance: Not true. By “lost insurance”, the Senator is referring to “churn”—transitioning between plans, sometimes a result of canceled plans—and not about a net loss in insured people in Colorado. The rate of churn was not increased by the ACA. Most cancelations—about 250,000—involved limited benefit plans that were not ACA-compliant, and thus had to be either made ACA-compliant or dropped when the ACA was enacted. Despite the churn, Colorado has nevertheless seen a net increase of over 530,000 in the number insured. In fact, Coloradans continue to enroll in plans in record-breaking numbers, with a 12% increase seen over the same time last year in the 2017 open enrollment period.
- People can’t see their doctors because of high deductibles. Not true. The 2015 Colorado Health Access Survey shows that, since the ACA was passed, increased coverage has meant increased access. Coloradans have steadily increased their rate of preventive health visits by 7% (from 61.9% in 2013 to 66.1% in 2015) and have lowered their rate of skipping doctors’ visits due to costs by 15% (from 12.3% in 2013 to 10.4% in 2015).
Although rising premiums, churn and barriers to accessing doctors were not eradicated by the ACA, this review of Colorado data shows that the ACA is part of the solution, not part of the problem. To do what is best for Coloradans, Senator Gardner needs to step away from his false narrative about the ACA and address real issues reflected in Colorado data. He has taken a first step in raising concerns about threats to Medicaid. There are ways to strengthen the ACA to address some of the real issues in healthcare, but to repeal it based on a false narrative disseminated by Senator Gardner and his Republican colleagues would be a tragedy. Let’s look at the facts, and work together to make the system better, for Colorado and the rest of America.