SEABROOK – The upcoming year will see changes to healthcare in Prince George’s County as it prepares for a new regional medical center, but officials here hope those changes don’t include a federal repeal of the Affordable Care Act. The Patient Protection/Affordable Care Act (ACA), colloquially known as Obamacare, was one of the major issues […]
SEABROOK – The upcoming year will see changes to healthcare in Prince George’s County as it prepares for a new regional medical center, but officials here hope those changes don’t include a federal repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
The Patient Protection/Affordable Care Act (ACA), colloquially known as Obamacare, was one of the major issues during the 2016 presidential election. The victor, Donald Trump, and his Republican Party, which gained a majority in both houses of Congress, ran on a promise to repeal ACA because of, what they see as, the burden it places on businesses required to provide insurance to employees and because of rising health insurance premiums they blame on the act. But Democrats are vowing to fight the repeal, pointing to the many benefits they see stemming from the act, notably expanding coverage to millions more people and preventing insurance companies from denying coverage based on pre-existing medical conditions.
Leaders in Prince George’s County say the law has been especially beneficial here. County Executive Rushern Baker, III said during his year in review interview with The Sentinel that the law made health insurance available to more residents, which played a large role in getting the green light from the state for the new hospital. Part of the criteria the state uses when determining if there is need for a new hospital is the projected number of patients that will be seen there.
“The work we’ve been able to do to not only reduce disparity around health in the county – which helps us in public safety and in education – but also the fact that we signed up a record number of folks for the Affordable Care Act. Signing those folks up, making sure that they have access to health insurance, also helped pave the way for us to finalize and get the CON (Certificate of Need) that will make sure that we build a brand new regional medical center in Prince George’s County,” Baker said. “That wouldn’t have been possible without signing up people who heretofore didn’t have health insurance or were underinsured. And so we’re very proud of that.”
County officials believe the hospital will spur economic development around the Largo Town Center Metro station. Hospital planners have also included space for medical offices in the regional medical center’s design to bring more primary care physicians into the county.
Baker spokesman Scott Peterson said before ACA went into effect, around 16 percent of the county’s residents were uninsured. After ACA, that number decreased to between 7 and 9 percent. Slightly less than 88,000 residents remain uninsured.
“Many of the low-income families had no insurance before and are now directly benefiting from the coverage provided through Medicaid. Expanded Medicaid offered coverage to many low-income adults who were not eligible before,” he said, referencing the Medicaid expansion that came as a result of ACA. “Others were paying for insurance through their work or individually and now are able to have coverage at a much lower cost.”
ACA also expanded coverage by asking states, including Maryland, to set up a “marketplace” to allow individuals to purchase a health insurance plan on their own if they did not have one through their employer or another means. The federal government also set up its own marketplace for residents of states that did not create one themselves. Plans offered through the marketplace must meet certain minimum coverage standards.
Peterson said more than 25,000 county residents are using one of the marketplace’s Qualified Health Plans, and of those 70 percent are receiving federal subsidies to offset costs.
ACA has also provided an opportunity for the county to assist people in choosing the plan that is right for them, Peterson said.
“One of the greatest benefits to Prince George’s County residents has been the high quality in-person assistance provided by navigators serving across the county. Our funded and unfunded partners have been an incredible asset as trusted voices in the communities we serve,” he said.
According to the county, expanded coverage has benefitted traditionally disadvantaged populations. A fact sheet dated Dec. 29, 2016, provided by Prince George’s County Health Connect, the official entity – called a Connector – working under the state to help residents navigate the marketplace, notes, “The growth in enrollment reduces long-standing disparities in coverage: African-American, Hispanic or Latino, and Asian-American residents had the largest gains in coverage. Ninety-five percent of Prince George’s County families that received Connector assistance were racial or ethnic minorities, and over one third spoke languages other than English.”
U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-5), who represents Prince George’s County in Congress, is a strong supporter of the ACA as well. He took part in a conference call Jan. 2 dedicated to the act. During the call, Hoyer mentioned several negative consequences of repealing ACA.
“If the ACA were to be repealed, not only would tens of millions of Americans lose their coverage – tens of millions of others would see their health care costs skyrocket,” Hoyer said. “According to the Tax Policy Center, repealing the ACA would significantly raise taxes for around seven million Americans, who would lose their tax credits to purchase insurance through the marketplace – a devastating effect for them. And according to the Brookings Institution, repealing the Affordable Care Act would increase premiums by 20 percent or more. That’s a startling figure.”
With the Congressional session just beginning this week, many questions remain over what will ultimately happen to the ACA, whether it be repealed or amended or something different. It is also unknown whether states that created their own exchange under the act would be able to keep those open without the federal law in place.
Requests for comment about the future of Maryland’s exchange from the office of Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and staff for the Maryland exchange were not returned.
Hoyer said he and other Democrats in Congress will not let the law go without a fight.
“We’re going to fight as hard as ever to protect the ACA and make sure hardworking Americans, and their families, are not forced to choose between paying for health care and paying for heat in their home, paying for food, and other absolutely essential items,” Hoyer said. “We believe that was a very essential piece of legislation that was passed to the benefit of all Americans.”