Zeldin votes to repeal Affordable Care Act
Rep. Lee Zeldin

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Zeldin votes to repeal Affordable Care Act

Story By: TARA SMITH
5/11/2017


Last Thursday evening, Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY-1) voted to end the Affordable Heath Care Act known as Obamacare and then declined an invitation to attend a White House celebration. According to Jennifer DiSiena, Communications Director for Zeldin, the Congressman traveled directly back to New York that evening to meet with a local environmental group as other GOP House members toasted to the supposed end of Obamacare.

The proposed American Health Care Act narrowly passed by a 217-213 vote without a single Democrat supporting. It now faces the Senate, where it will likely evolve. There’s a long road ahead--that’s why Congressman Zeldin isn’t celebrating yet. 

Former NY-1 Congressman Tim Bishop weighed in on the bill. His top concern was that the bill would provide tax relief to families making $250,000 or more per year, whilst cutting Medicaid programs--totaling an estimated $6 billion of relief and $880 billion in cuts over a 10-year period. “[Medicaid] goes to the poorest families among us. Just the notion that it is morally defensible to give a tax break to the most fortunate among us and deprive the least fortunate among us is deeply, deeply depressing.”

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand called the bill “atrocious.” She added, “Healthcare shouldn’t be about politics — it is about people — and this bill would harm people. The only beneficiaries of this bill are big insurance companies and the wealthiest among us, with the price tag being paid by everyone else through higher premiums, less coverage and millions of vulnerable Americans losing their insurance.“

“This bill is going nowhere fast in the United States Senate,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer. “Rather than trying to pass a different version of the same Trumpcare bill that would mean higher costs and less care, Senate Republicans should refuse to follow their House colleagues over a cliff, reject repeal, and work with Democrats to improve our healthcare system in a bipartisan way.”

Locally, Brookhaven Memorial Hospital Medical Center CEO Rich Margulis expressed some concerns over potential impacts. “I met the news [from Thursday’s vote] with concern about the financial impact to our hospital and our community, including a potential increase to our charity care and decrease in our Medicaid reimbursement,” Margulis said. But he’s open to further, open-minded dialogue. “A bill like this can cause a domino effect among health care providers and health care seekers, but it would take more time, research and contact with the experts to truly understand all of the ways our hospital would be affected.”
In a phone conversation with Zeldin, he responded to the criticisms.

“[The AHCA] is a budget reconciliation bill, so not all ideas people have to improve healthcare can be captured,” Zeldin said. “There’s an ongoing need and interest to reduce the cost of prescription drugs, to have medical malpractice reform, to make it easier for employers to pull their policies together, to be able to offer employees more for less, and to sell policies across state lines,” he added. “All of these ideas are examples of ways to improve health care, but you need separate legislation. You can’t do it through budget reconciliation.”

Zeldin has been a longtime critic of Obamacare and said that one bill isn’t going to fix everything. “The goal here isn’t to replace a multi-thousand page law with a multi-thousand page bill,” he said, noting that he did read the bill before voting last week. “It was a couple of hundred pages long--certainly an easier read than the Affordable Care Act,” he said. 

Critics of the bill say that the AHCA will cause millions of Americans to lose health care and make it difficult for people with pre-existing conditions to find affordable policies.

The news of cutting Medicaid surprised Bishop, especially after President Donald Trump vowed not to cut Medicaid on the campaign trail. “He said the bill would be ‘beautiful’ and provide coverage to more people at a lower cost. This bill does none of those things. It’s just one more lie that Donald Trump got the American people to buy,” claimed Bishop.
He also said that he finds the bill “dishonest by omission” when it comes to protecting pre-existing conditions, since states would be able to waive community-rating requirements that ensure people can’t be charged more for the same policy. Still, he thinks its “saving grace” will be changes made by the Senate. “What the Republicans did last Thursday afternoon will never, ever, take on the force of law. It has absolutely no chance of passing through the Senate as written,” Bishop said. “I don’t know how they are going to thread this needle.”

Zeldin dismissed those claims, adding that misinformation surrounding the bill is spreading virally on social media. “There’s an absurd claim that 310,000 NY-1 residents with pre-existing conditions would lose coverage,” Zeldin said. The latest census data shows NY-1’s population to be just over 725,000. “It’s not within a million degrees of accuracy to claim that 310,000 people with pre-existing conditions would lose coverage.”

Medicaid and pre-existing conditions are hot topics surrounding the bill, since under the act states would be able to waive certain market regulations introduced under the ACA. “It’s important to note that New York is not seeking a waiver from the federal government with regard to essential health benefits, community ratings and pre-existing conditions,” Zeldin said, adding that without a waiver, New York State insurers cannot deny someone coverage or charge more due to a pre-existing condition. “New York is a 1:1 state. You can’t discriminate against insured individuals based off their age.” 

He did however note that in other states, such as Iowa, where the state’s last insurer under the exchange announced they were pulling out of the market, waivers could improve the overall market. “Other states are looking for flexibility related to essential health benefits, community ratings and pre-existing conditions in order to improve their market so they can fix the situation,” Zeldin said. “Lots of people have deductibles so high they can’t afford to pay. If you can’t afford the health insurance, you don’t truly have access to it.” He noted that “Even in one of those states that requests a waiver, there are multiple layers in place to protect people with pre-existing conditions. [Insurers] can’t charge anyone more if they maintain continuous coverage,” he said.

Zeldin also disputed claims that under the new AHCA, the list of pre-existing conditions would expand to include sexual assault victims and pregnancy. “There are many individuals who are posting lists of pre-existing conditions claiming the AHCA created. I don’t know where they are getting their list from, but it’s not from the bill,” he said, noting that pre-existing conditions are already defined by federal law.
Aside from pre-existing conditions, Zeldin also called for another Obama-era stipulation be kept as-is: Young Adult Coverage. “There are so many parents who, because of their occupations or place in life, have insurance policies that provide good coverage for their kids. Young, healthy Americans are the population that may choose not to have health insurance coverage at all. They may be trying to save a few dollars and have a stubborn mentality that they won’t need health coverage at all,” Zeldin said. “But then something bad happens, and being so young in life, that can be devastating. Aside from not being prepared to take care of your health condition, financially, it may take a really long time to try and rebound from costs that you may accrue,” he added. “There are many different components of advocating for children to be able to stay on their parents policy until 26. The American public is asking for that to be continued.”

-Liz Finnegan contributed to this story.