The citizen-organized Affordable Healthcare Action Group hosted a community forum at Centre Crest on Thursday to discuss the uncertain future of health care coverage.
A four-person panel presented the audience of about 25 people with the status of health care legislation and what potential changes could mean for Centre County residents.
Cheryl White, executive director of Centre Volunteers in Medicine; Dennis Shea, associate dean for undergraduate studies and outreach at Penn State; Rich Wilber, insurance product design manager at Geisinger health plan; and Michael Pipe, Centre County commissioner engaged in a panel discussion followed by a Q&A moderated by David Price, real estate agent at RE/MAX Centre Realty.
Medicaid and the proposed changes to the program under Republican drafted legislation was heavily discussed throughout the night. Shea explained that although the U.S. Senate did not pass the Republican health care bill in July, another bill is on the table.
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The bill, widely referred to as the “Cassidy-Graham” bill, crafted by Sens. Bill Cassidy, R-La., Lindsey Graham, R- S.C., and Dean Heller, R-Nev., essentially allows states to control the health care markets, according to Shea.
The bill proposes to take Medicaid funding and subsidies and put them into a block grant that is allocated to each state. The bill also allows states to opt out of many Affordable Care Act regulations, such as penalties for not enrolling in a health insurance plan.
If the bill is passed, Pennsylvania is estimated to lose about $500 million in Medicaid funding over the next 10 years, Shea said.
Medicaid spending accounts for a third of the entire state budget and about 72 percent of Medicaid spending in the state goes to people ages 65 and older, Shea said.
“The older population is where there would be a lot of pressure to meet the needs of those individuals when that money disappears from the current plan,” Shea said.
Some of the financial burden and responsibility would fall on county government, which Pipe said is a topic of conversation among commissioners throughout the country, and if the bill is passed there are no clear answers where the funding would come from.
The bill that failed in July did so in dramatic fashion when Republican Sen. John McCain voted no and killed the bill. But it was widely reported on Wednesday that McCain supports the Cassidy-Graham bill, which Pipe said has people on edge once again.
It’s unclear if the new bill will gain traction and come to the floor for a vote, but the panel agreed that health care education events similar to Thursday and engagement with lawmakers are essential to the health care discussion.
“I think that the best thing that citizens can do is to tell their stories or encourage people who can be affected by the legislation to tell their stories,” Pipe said. “The more personal, the better.”