By Bernie Sherry, Ministry Market Executive, Ascension Wisconsin, and Senior Vice President, Ascension Healthcare.

This year, Congress has worked hard to craft solutions to the real challenges being experienced in the healthcare marketplace. In many states, including Wisconsin, the individual insurance market needs to offer more health plan options at a lower cost. We need Congress to act now.

Ascension Wisconsin has sought to be a voice for our patients by calling on Congress to pass legislation that meets three simple principles:

(1) Preserve the safety net for those who are poor and vulnerable and continue the progress to assure access to affordable healthcare for all;

(2) Stabilize and strengthen the individual market, because a vibrant and sustainable individual and small group market is essential to a successful, equitable healthcare system; and

(3) Provide sufficient resources to continue proactively transforming the financing for the delivery of care to one that is value-based rather than volume-based. We believe this is the key to lowering healthcare costs over the long run.

Over the last several months, our national health system leaders have talked with members of Congress and their staffs to encourage them to craft legislation that achieves these three principles. Unfortunately, the discussion draft of the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017 (BCRA) released by the Senate falls short of achieving these goals.

That said, I want to commend the Senate for some things it did well in this draft. The Senate tried to make sure that individuals with pre-existing conditions are not charged significantly more for healthcare coverage. It also moves toward a fairer tax credit than the House for older Americans who must buy insurance on the individual market. The Senate also proposed waiving an outdated Medicaid exclusion for inpatient treatment of those with addiction, which is sorely needed.

Unfortunately, BCRA fails to meet our legislative reform goals because it would result in even deeper cuts to Medicaid than the House version and put the care for millions of poor and vulnerable children, parents, adults, Americans with disabilities and the elderly at risk. In fact, it is the biggest restructuring of the Medicaid program in 40 years, which would impact the very people who need care the most. According to our estimates, this bill will cut $2.8 billion dollars from Wisconsin’s Medicaid program over the next 10 years and will likely force millions of people off of Medicaid coverage. We must do better.

The Senate has diagnosed significant problems in the individual market but is prescribing the wrong medicine to address them. The draft bill as written would also further destabilize the individual insurance market by removing the incentive of continuous coverage that had been included in the House bill. States that have laws guaranteeing issue of insurance without at least a strong legal incentive for continuous coverage have seen losses of coverage and a severe deterioration in the insurance market that results in spiraling premiums.

Thankfully, the Senate bill is a work in progress. I urge the Senate to address the crucial issues facing healthcare while “doing no harm” by:

  1. Going back to the drawing board to find viable solutions that focus on the three principles above.
  2. Immediately passing a short-term bill to shore up the individual market and halt the spiraling costs and loss of coverage being experienced there.
  3. Sitting down with your colleagues across the aisle to find consensus and lasting solutions.

I urge the Senate to continue working to develop a viable short term and long term proposal that preserves coverage, stabilizes and strengthens the individual market and continues the transformation of healthcare delivery to improve quality and lower costs.