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Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker Changes Tune on Affordable Care Act in Election Year

Former Republican Presidential Candidate Sees Writing on the Wall for 2018

Washington, DC — In a sign of how dramatically the politics around health care have shifted, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, once an outspoken foe of the Affordable Care Act, has embraced a plan to strengthen the law in his state. The about-face comes soon after a national Protect Our Care poll showed that health care is a top priority for most voters going into the 2018 election cycle.

“Even ultra-conservative Scott Walker is finally facing facts: 2018 voters overwhelmingly prefer politicians who will work keep and improve the Affordable Care Act over candidates who support President Trump and Congressional Republicans’ unpopular sabotage-and-repeal agenda. Governor Walker should advise his Republican friends in Congress to face up to the writing on the wall and start supporting states’ efforts to improve the Affordable Care Act, instead of digging themselves a deeper hole by continuing to push partisan repeal bills and condone the Trump administration’s ongoing sabotage,” said Protect Our Care Campaign Director Brad Woodhouse.

Walker, in Turnabout, Moves to Stabilize Insurance Market

AP // Scott Bauer

MADISON, Wis. — In a tack to the left in an election year, Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker announced Sunday that he wants a state law that would bar insurers from denying a person health coverage due to a pre-existing condition.

He also wants Wisconsin to join Minnesota, Oregon, Hawaii and Alaska in obtaining a federal waiver to offer reinsurance, a move designed to lower premiums for people in the private insurance marketplace.

Walker said the steps are necessary because “Washington failed to act” on passing a replacement for the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare” — in effect criticizing fellow Republicans who control Congress and the White House.

Democrats accused Walker of hypocrisy. He has been a consistent and vocal critic of the health care law, refused to participate in the federal marketplace and repeatedly advocated for the law’s repeal and replacement. He also previously suggested he might have Wisconsin opt out of the law’s pre-existing condition rules.

“Give me a break on this pivot,” Democratic Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz said. “The problem we’re trying to fix was self-inflicted by Governor Walker.”

By seeking a reinsurance waiver, Walker is taking a step to make the private marketplace in Wisconsin more stable and affordable for more than 200,000 people in it. He plans to use his State of the State speech on Wednesday to ask the Republican-controlled Legislature to approve the proposals this year, and said leaders are on board.

His ideas, including seeking a lifetime federal waiver for the state’s popular discount prescription drug program known as SeniorCare, have had bipartisan support in the past. Democratic state Sen. Jon Erpenbach said he expected Democrats to largely support the measures.

“Obviously the governor’s done some polling and he’s finding out he’s on the wrong side of history on health insurance and health care,” Erpenbach said.

Walker has been embracing ideas originally championed in whole or in part by Democrats as he seeks a third term in November. Earlier this month he called for closing the state’s troubled juvenile prison, which Democrats have pushed for years. And last year, he gave public schools essentially the level of funding requested by state schools Superintendent Tony Evers, a Democrat running against him for governor.

Walker told reporters he’s simply “listening to people across the state. It doesn’t matter if they’re Democrat or Republican. I don’t think those are Democrat issues, those are Wisconsin issues. People care about them.”

He said his latest health plan addresses the concerns of people who buy insurance through their employers by guaranteeing that pre-existing conditions will be covered. Even though that’s currently federal law, Walker said it is important that the state guarantee it and provide peace of mind.

Last year, the state Assembly passed a bill that would have done just that. Walker called on the Senate to pass it in the coming weeks.

The state’s discount prescription drug program for those over age 65 has received a federal waiver since 2002. It serves 60,000 seniors a month. The waiver has been extended four times, most recently in 2015. Walker said a permanent waiver would give peace of mind to seniors who rely on the discounted medicine.

Erpenbach doubted such a waiver could be granted without a change in federal law.

Walker’s push to make SeniorCare permanent comes seven years after he proposed cutting membership by forcing enrollees to first sign up for Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage, with the state program only covering what the federal one did not.

That was rejected after a bipartisan outcry.

Walker’s other new federal waiver request to offer reinsurance addresses the roughly 200,000 people in Wisconsin who purchase health insurance on the private marketplace under the “Obamacare” law. Reinsurance, which has bipartisan support, basically sets up a pool of money for the government to cover the cost of insurers’ most expensive cases.

Walker estimated his plan would cost $200 million, with the federal government paying 75 percent. He said the state’s share would come from savings from the Medicaid program.

Walker said he expected the program to result in lower rate increases in 2019 and stabilize a market that recently lost several larger insurers including UnitedHealth and Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield. The state insurance office estimated that premium rates will increase an average of 36 percent this year.

Because of the loss of insurers, this year more than 75,000 people in Wisconsin had to change insurance companies and many of them were limited to one or two choices.

 

 

New Washington Post/ABC News Poll: Health Care Remains Top Concern for Voters

A new Washington Post/ABC News poll asked Americans about the policies which took precedent during President Trump’s first year in office, and reached a key conclusion: Americans are most united about health care, and they are united in opposition to the GOP agenda.

Asked if keeping “Obamacare” was a good thing for the country, 57 percent of respondents said yes – a significantly higher percentage than any other policy. Meanwhile, just one policy was underwater: the Republican tax scam, which kicked millions of people off of their insurance and was opposed 46% – 34%.

This polling echoes results in a January Hart Research survey, which found that health care far exceeds any other issue as an important driver of voting preferences, with over half of all voters identifying health care as one of their top priorities in the 2018 congressional elections. A majority of those surveyed expressed strong disapproval for the health care policies pushed by the GOP:

And just last week in Wisconsin, voters made their voices heard at the polls that matter most — the ballot box — by electing pro-ACA Democrat Patty Schachtner, who defeated her Republican opponent by nine points in a district that supported Donald Trump by 17 points just 15 months ago. That win follows off-year November elections where voters’ support for health care swept Democrats to victory across the country.

The polling is clear and so are the electoral results: the GOP’s health care has never been less popular. If Republicans want to stave the wave in 2018, they must abandon their sabotage-and-repeal health care agenda.

President Trump’s First Year: A War on Women’s Health

TO: Interested parties

FROM: Marjorie Connolly, Communications Director, Protect Our Care

RE: President Trump’s First Year: A War on Women’s Health

DATE: January 19, 2018

A year after the historic Women’s March on Washington, the millions who mobilized against President Trump’s anti-women agenda have seen their worst fears justified. Over the past twelve months, the Trump Administration and its Republican allies in Congress have launched attack after attack on women’s access to health care in parallel with Republicans’ war on American health care.

The Republican war on women’s health care is real and ongoing. Over the past twelve months, the Trump Administration’s actions to undermine Affordable Care Act protections and the Republican Congress’s repeated attempts to roll back women’s right to make their own health care decisions have created a perfect storm of harmful anti-woman policies.

Here’s how Republicans worked to wind back the clock on American women’s health care during Trump’s first year in office:

Defunding Planned Parenthood: Just today, the Trump Administration rolled back Obama-era guidance that warned states not to carve Planned Parenthood out of their Medicaid providers, signaling support for state efforts to place even higher barriers in the way of women’s access to health care. The Republican health repeal bills in Congress also got rid of federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

Taking direct aim at birth control: The Trump Administration’s proposed rule to let any employer opt out of offering health insurance that covers birth control rolls back the Affordable Care Act’s guarantee that women may access copay-free contraception.

Pushing Medicaid cuts that hurt women the most: Women make up almost two-thirds of the Americans projected to lose Medicaid coverage because of the Trump Administration’s push for states to impose work requirements. That’s because women are more likely to hold jobs that do not offer health coverage or to take on primary caregiver duties for other family members.

Stacking federal courts with anti-choice judges: For the next generation, American women will face the threat posed by an increasingly anti-choice federal judiciary. 12 of Trump’s judicial nominees were appointed to circuit courts during his first year – more than any other first-year president in American history.

Reversing progress against breast cancer: Republicans’ repeated attempts to undermine the Affordable Care Act’s essential health benefits threaten landmark progress in women’s preventive health. New research this week finds that the Affordable Care Act requirement that plans (including Medicare) must cover recommended preventive care without a copay led to a significant increase in the number of women receiving mammography screenings.

Allowing insurers to once again charge women more: The Trump Administration’s recent proposed rule expanded Association Health Plans, which would allow plans to skirt some of the Affordable Care Act’s key protections. Under the rule, plans would be able to charge people more based on gender.

Raising costs on women for maternity care: The Republican health repeal bills allowed states to opt of covering “essential health benefits,” such as maternity care, prescription drugs, and substance abuse treatment. As a result, women would have had to purchase that care separately, and therefore pay more. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that maternity care, for example, would cost women $1,000 more per month.

Trump Administration Breaks Its Promise Again on Opioid Crisis

Following today’s news that the Trump Administration will propose a 95% cut to the Office of National Drug Control Policy charged with coordinating the federal response to the nation’s raging opioid crisis, Protect Our Care Campaign Director Brad Woodhouse released the following statement:

“For Americans fighting the opioid crisis who had hoped that President Trump might finally address this raging epidemic with the urgency it deserves, today’s proposed ONDCP cuts are yet another blow. This Administration has done nothing to facilitate treatment for Americans struggling with addiction, and its attacks on Medicaid and the ONDCP stand to make the situation worse. By trying to gut the office charged with coordinating the federal opioid response, the Trump Administration is not only continuing its pathetic response to the nation’s most urgent public health crisis: it is now actively sabotaging the communities that are fighting so hard to turn the tide on this deadly epidemic.”

This Week in the War on Health Care — January 15-19, 2018

The week, as much of the focus in Washington shifted to DACA and negotiations in Congress over a continuing resolution, the Trump Administration continued its unprecedented assault on the American health care system.

While your attention was focused elsewhere, here’s a summary of what happened this week in sabotage:

ATTACKS ON MEDICAID

As the dust settled around the Trump HHS’s approval of Kentucky’s worst-in-the-nation Medicaid waiver, experts dug into the fundamental ways it signals an end to Medicaid’s legacy:

… and why we already know it won’t work, unless Governor Matt Bevin’s primary goal is to take away Kentuckians’ coverage (spoiler alert: it is):

As Margot Sanger-Katz notes: “Kentucky’s new Medicaid waiver will ask low-income people to jump over hurdles to keep their coverage. Evidence suggests that many will fail … Kentucky officials argue that the changes will give beneficiaries more dignity and promote personal responsibility. But they also estimate that around 100,000 fewer people will be enrolled in the program by the end of five years.”

Meanwhile, Republicans opened a new front in their war on Medicaid. Yesterday, Senator Ron Johnson held a sham hearing to try to smear Medicaid by blaming it for the opioid crisis — when in fact Medicaid is one of our most important tools to curb the epidemic. Fortunately, few were fooled:

  • Newsweek: “The Republican argument is flawed because the Medicaid expansion began in 2014, and opioid addiction was declared an epidemic by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2011.”
  • Washington Post: “While conservatives have noted that overdose deaths are much higher among people inside the program than those outside it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they’ve not been able to prove Medicaid actually leads to opioid abuse.”
  • Los Angeles Times: “The Republican campaign against Medicaid could only make the opioid crisis worse. That’s because Medicaid pays for a huge proportion of opioid treatments, covering fully one-third of those with addiction problems … Johnson and his fellow Republicans in Congress seem determined to impose cuts on the program, even though the benefits it renders are crystal-clear. Wednesday’s hearing did achieve one benefit, for all that: It showed how threadbare their arguments are.”

ATTACKS ON EMPLOYER COVERAGE

On Monday, New York Times reported that the GOP’s next health care sabotage scheme will remove the requirement that employers of over 50 workers offer health coverage for their employees. Such a move could yank care away from millions more Americans, while increasing government spending:

“The Affordable Care Act was built on a framework of shared responsibility … If you get rid of the employer mandate, you will see people lose coverage from their employers.”

ATTACKS ON CRITICAL HEALTH PROGRAMS

Congressional Republicans released a Continuing Resolution proposal that continues their heartless strategy of using children’s health insurance as a bargaining chip. Their bill also attempts to delay Affordable Care Act taxation provisions that benefit big corporations, while ignoring critical expired programs that support essential providers. These include community health centers and hospitals that serve lower-income communities. Some of these critical provider systems are facing threats of closure due to the ongoing uncertainty caused by the Republican Congress..

As Politico reported, GOP Congressional leaders considered including the badly-needed funding – then decided not to:

Knowing the vote is close, Ryan, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California and other GOP leaders debated on Wednesday morning whether to add more provisions to the package, such as funding for community health centers. In the end, they decided to move ahead with the package as is.

As this week’s CR brinksmanship showed, Republicans continue to prioritize partisan politics over their constituents’ health care.

SABOTAGE TAKES A TOLL

On Tuesday, Gallup found that America’s uninsured rate jumped during Trump’s first year in office for the first time in a decade, causing 3.2 million Americans to lose their care.

If this week’s news is any indication, that number could climb as the Republican war on health care continues into 2018.

“It Showed How Threadbare [Republicans’] Arguments Are”: What Happened At Sen. Ron Johnson’s Opioids Hearing Today

This morning, Sen. Ron Johnson held a hearing at his Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee ostensibly to discuss the opioid epidemic. Instead, it quickly delved into a showing of right-wing talking points, falsely claiming that Medicaid expansion – ensuring more access to health care – is causing this epidemic.

What are the problems with this Republican theory?

CDC: “There Is No Evidence Medicaid Leads To Opioid Abuse.” “The Republican argument is flawed because the Medicaid expansion began in 2014, and opioid addiction was declared an epidemic by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2011. The federal science agency has also said there is no evidence that Medicaid leads to opioid abuse.” [Newsweek, 1/17/18]

Vox: “This Claim Runs Into A Basic Problem: The Concept Of Time.” “But this claim runs into a basic problem: the concept of time. Medicaid didn’t expand under Obamacare until 2014 — well after opioid overdose deaths started rising (in the late 1990s), after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2011 declared the crisis an epidemic, and as the crisis became more about illicit opioids, such as heroin and fentanyl, rather than conventional opioid painkillers. ‘It’s pretty ridiculous,’ Andrew Kolodny, an opioid policy expert at Brandeis University who’s scheduled to testify at the Senate hearing, told me.” [Vox, 1/17/18]

David Wyman, Georgetown University Law Center: “Just Because A Precedes B Doesn’t Mean That A Causes B. That’s Statistics 101.”  “The witnesses included one anti-Medicaid ideologue, two local prosecutors who testified that they’ve seen a lot of addicts in their work and lots of them seem to be on Medicaid, and two experts who, tactlessly, pointed out that the causes of the opioid epidemic are many and complex, that it started years before Medicaid expansion, and that it involves patients and doctors in Medicare and private insurance as well as the uninsured… Efforts to demonize Medicaid expansion because it was launched as the opioid crisis really took off confuse correlation with causation, David Hyman of the Georgetown University Law Center warned Johnson’s committee. ‘Just because A precedes B doesn’t mean that A causes B,’ he said. ‘That’s statistics 101.’” [Los Angeles Times, 1/17/18]

Do Republicans pushing this theory have any actual evidence to back it up?

Washington Post: “They’ve Not Been Able To Prove Medicaid Actually Leads To Opioid Abuse. On The Contrary, [Medicaid Expansion] Has Given More Americans Access To Addiction Treatment.” “So, who’s right here? There’s little data to draw from, since Medicaid was expanded only recently under the ACA. But while conservatives have noted that overdose deaths are much higher among people inside the program than those outside it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they’ve not been able to prove Medicaid actually leads to opioid abuse. On the contrary, as Medicaid advocates note, expanding the program to include childless adults earning up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level has given more Americans access to addiction treatment. The program, which provided coverage to 3 in 10 people dealing with opioid addiction in 2015, covers outpatient treatment and inpatient detoxification, among other services, for substance use disorder.” [Washington Post, 1/17/18]

Could this theory lead to drastic conclusions which are squarely at odds with public health?

Katherine Baicker, University Of Chicago Harris School Of Public Policy Dean: “I Don’t Think Anybody Would Suggest Because Overprescribing Of Opioids Poses A Series Health Risk, People Shouldn’t Go See The Doctor.” “If [Republicans] argue against Medicaid based on the idea that it potentially allows more patients to get prescriptions for opioids, they could use that same reasoning to oppose expansion of private health insurance. Expanding health insurance of any variety increases people’s access to health care. Much of that care is beneficial; some may not be, Katherine Baicker, dean of the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy, told me. ‘I don’t think anybody would suggest because overprescribing of opioids poses a series health risk, people shouldn’t go see the doctor,’ Baicker said.” [Washington Post, 1/17/18]

What did the hearing accomplish?

Los Angeles Times: Wednesday’s Hearing “Showed How Threadbare [Republicans’] Arguments Are.” “The Republican campaign against Medicaid could only make the opioid crisis worse. That’s because Medicaid pays for a huge proportion of opioid treatments, covering fully one-third of those with addiction problems. Most of that spending is in expansion states — in fact, it’s possible that the prevalance of opioid addiction in some states may have helped prompt them to accept expansion (another example of how the relationship between addiction and Medicaid may have been misread). The necessity of continuing Medicaid expansion to address the opioid crisis was made forcibly by Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, both Republicans, last year when congressional Republicans were working hard to eviscerate the program. Johnson and his fellow Republicans in Congress seem determined to impose cuts on the program, even though the benefits it renders are crystal-clear. Wednesday’s hearing did achieve one benefit, for all that: It showed how threadbare their arguments are.” [Los Angeles Times, 1/17/18]

Ultimately then, why did this hearing take place?

Newsweek: Sen. Johnson “Read An Article In Commentary, A Neoconservative Magazine.” “But in the end, even Senator Johnson acknowledged that the purpose of the hearing was a bit baffling. ‘People may be scratching their heads saying, ‘Why is Department of Homeland Security holding a hearing on the opioid crisis and Medicaid?’’ he said at the beginning of the meeting. He went on to explain that he had read an article in Commentary, a neoconservative magazine, that piqued his interest on the topic and asked his staff to compile a report and schedule a hearing on the topic.” [Newsweek, 1/17/18]

Most importantly, does this theory have the potential to cause significant damage to a population in urgent need of care?

Vox: “Republicans May Be In Fact Undermining A Potential Solution To The Overdose Crisis.” “Other evidence, meanwhile, suggests that Medicaid could actually act as a solution to the opioid crisis — because Medicaid, by expanding access to addiction treatment, could help stem the tide of addiction and overdose deaths. So by using this new hearing and report to potentially attack Medicaid, Republicans may be in fact undermining a potential solution to the overdose crisis.” [Vox, 1/17/18]

So there you have it. While millions of Americans struggle with the scourge of opioid addiction, and the White House leaves this epidemic in the hands of a lying, underqualified 24-year-old, Sen. Johnson continues to pontificate right-wing talking points he read in a magazine. Perhaps moving forward he’ll listen to the experts instead of pushing forward a false, ideologically-driven narrative that harms Americans.

Republicans Lose Trump Senate District in Wisconsin, Health Care Plays Important Role

Last night, Democrat Patty Schachtner, the chief medical examiner of St. Croix County, Wisconsin, won a special election for an open state Senate seat by 9 points. Voters in the district supported Donald Trump by 17 points just 15 months ago, and the seat had not been held by a Democrat since the turn of the century.

One of the big issues in the race was health care, and below is an example of direct mail Schachtner’s campaign used extensively to highlight the consequences of the GOP’s health care repeal. Just like in Virginia, where health care was the top issue for voters and Democrats came away victorious, voters are rejecting Republicans who embrace the GOP war on health care. In fact, recent national polling conducted by Hart Research and Protect Our Care found that health care was the number one issue among voters surveyed.

If Republicans want to stop losing, they should stop their war on health care.

CR Proposal Shows Republicans Remain Obsessed with ACA Repeal at the American People’s Expense

Washington, DC – After Congressional Republicans released a Continuing Resolution proposal that takes aim at Affordable Care Act provisions while ignoring critical expired health care programs, Protect Our Care Campaign Director Brad Woodhouse released the following statement:

“Today’s Continuing Resolution proposal from Congressional Republicans shows that  they care more about  taking potshots at the Affordable Care Act and providing tax giveaways to big corporations than they do about being sure  that community health centers and hospitals serving low-income people have the funds they desperately need just to keep their doors open. Republicans should be ashamed that they have once again put tens of thousands of Americans’ health care at risk in order to continue their partisan war on the Affordable Care Act and keep giving tax breaks to big corporations.”

BACKGROUND

Today’s Republican Continuing Resolution includes delays of the Affordable Care Act’s medical device, high-cost plan (Cadillac), and health insurance (HIT) taxes.

The CR does not include funding for Community Health Centers or Disproportionate Share Hospitals — essential sources of care for millions of Americans — which expired last October, causing some of these critical provider systems to now face threats of closure.

Protect Our Care Blasts Senator Johnson’s Farce Medicaid Opioids Hearing

Ahead of this morning’s farce Senate hearing on Medicaid and the opioid crisis, Protect Our Care Campaign Director Brad Woodhouse released the following statement:

“In American communities hit hard by the deadly opioid epidemic, Medicaid is a lifeline that connects those struggling with addiction with needed care. Today’s outrageous stunt hearing from Senator Johnson ignores that reality by blaming Medicaid for the opioid crisis that was inflamed by Big Pharma, when in fact Medicaid is one of our most important tools to curb the epidemic. As Republicans train their sights on Medicaid as the latest front in their war on our health care, Americans must reject insidious untruths like those being pushed at today’s hearing.”

BACKGROUND

PolitiFact, 10/23/17“No evidence to prove Medicaid expansion is fueling the opioid crisis.”

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 10/5/17“Expansion states have reduced the unmet need for the treatment of substance use disorders by 18 percent. All states’ Medicaid programs cover at least one medically assisted treatment medication, and the Medicaid expansion has granted health coverage to an estimated 99,000 people with an opioid use disorder.”

Health Affairs, 8/23/17“The opioid epidemic started decades before Medicaid expanded … Expansion states did have relatively more drug deaths than non-expansion states in 2015, but the upward trend in deaths in expansion states started in 2010, four years before the Medicaid expansion began. The results are the same if we exclude the six early expansion states. By the simplest criterion for causality, that causes must precede effects, these results cannot be taken as evidence of Medicaid expansion causing these deaths.”

Kaiser Family Foundation, 7/14/17“Medicaid plays an important role in addressing the epidemic, covering 3 in 10 people with opioid addiction in 2015. Medicaid facilitates access to a number of addiction treatment services, including medications delivered as part of medication-assisted treatment, and it allows many people with opioid addiction to obtain treatment for other health conditions.”

State Health Reform Assistance Network, 7/16“Medicaid is the most powerful vehicle available to states to fund coverage of prevention and treatment for their residents at risk for or actively battling opioid addiction….The greatest opportunity to address this crisis is in those states that have elected to expand Medicaid, given the greater reach of the program, additional tools available, and the increased availability of federal funds.”

 

Ahead of Azar Vote, New Protect Our Care Digital Ad Highlights Trump Administration’s HHS Sabotage Wish List

In advance of this morning’s Senate Finance Committee vote on the nomination of former Big Pharma executive Alex Azar to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, Protect Our Care has released a digital ad highlighting the newly uncovered Trump HHS plot to sabotage American health care, which has already claimed 3.2 million Americans’ coverage and counting.

As revealed by last week’s bombshell Politico report, Trump HHS officials planned to sabotage the Affordable Care Act from the very first days of the new Administration. That news came a day after Mr. Azar’s confirmation hearing, during which he refused to promise an end to the sabotage if appointed to lead HHS.

“The Trump HHS has been secretly sabotaging the American health care system from the very beginning, and now 3 million Americans have lost their coverage,” said Protect Our Care Campaign Director Brad Woodhouse. “Now that they’ve been caught red-handed, the Trump Administration and its HHS nominee must promise to end these attacks on our care.”