By Bernie Sherry

The debate in Congress over whether to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been put aside, at least for now. The time is now for our federal legislators to shift their focus to other pressing healthcare topics, providing the opportunity both for progress and to work together across the aisle.

In my experience, segmenting large issues into their component pieces enables us to define and solve major issues step by step. By doing so, we often generate better results by building upon a series of smaller successes to achieve the ultimate goal.

This approach may work at the federal level tackling major issues, as well. My advice to our congressional leaders would be to focus on historically bipartisan issues that can be addressed in digestible pieces.

Ascension Wisconsin is committed to providing compassionate, personalized care to all, with special attention to persons living in poverty and those most vulnerable. We also strive to achieve 100 percent access and 100 percent coverage in our communities, which is why we are calling attention to several timely healthcare issues that are worthy of focus.

One important issue that needs to be addressed is stabilizing the individual insurance market. We applaud the work of Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) in developing the Bipartisan Health Care Stabilization Act of 2017, also known as the Alexander-Murray bill.

This bill would shore up the individual health insurance market, provide states like Wisconsin more flexibility in covering their residents and allow more widespread availability of catastrophic plans.

It’s promising that the Alexander-Murray bill would strengthen the individual insurance markets and restore cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments that help make coverage affordable for lower-income enrollees.

Incredibly, this bill would accomplish these goals while also saving taxpayers almost $4 billion. This work demonstrates the type of results that are possible through thoughtful collaboration.

Other pressing issues that need immediate attention include:

  • Federal funding for the recently expired Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP): Both parties have already launched the process to extend funding for this vital program that provides coverage for lower-income children.
  • Federal support for Community Health Centers. This has always received strong bipartisan support, and we are encouraged by legislation that has been announced. Regardless of what happens with the overall healthcare debate in the future, Community Health Centers will remain an essential component of our healthcare delivery system because of the important role they play in providing healthcare services in underserved communities.
  • Access to care for veterans. In August, Congress provided emergency funding for the Veterans Choice Act, which continues to depend on bipartisan support for reauthorization. We strongly support this vitally important work, which honors our commitment to those who have served our country.
  • Prescription drug pricing. Pharmaceutical pricing continues to be a challenge, and several bipartisan proposals, such as the Creating and Restoring Equal Access to Equivalent Samples (CREATES) Act, work to eliminate barriers to generic competition and reduce prices.

Policies like these help to slow the rate of healthcare inflation, a goal supported by both major parties.

In Wisconsin, over 200,000 people are currently covered by an insurance product offered on the Exchange. We are hearing from our patients and communities that there is significant confusion and uncertainty about Exchange coverage for 2018. When that confusion is coupled with the 42 percent reduction in funding to the largest enrollment assister group in Wisconsin, it creates the potential for a substantial loss of coverage for 2018.

Combined with smart state policies, the uninsured rate in Wisconsin has been cut in half over the past several years. This is something we are proud of in Wisconsin. However, as a safety net healthcare provider from Racine to Eagle River, we are concerned that the current environment and confusion around enrollment will negatively impact this progress.

While a wholesale healthcare overhaul may present major political challenges, we can begin with these individual issues, which can be negotiated as important pieces of the puzzle.

We call on Wisconsin’s federal representatives and senators, with their colleagues across the aisle in Congress, to support the Alexander-Murray bill. We also urge our legislators to continue to fund CHIP, improve the Veterans Choice program, address high drug costs and forestall planned payment reductions to Medicaid disproportionate share hospitals.

Patients in Wisconsin are in need. We encourage Congress to act now.

Bernie Sherry is  the Ministry Market Executive for Ascension Wisconsin, and Senior Vice President of Ascension Healthcare. Wausau Pilot & Review gladly accepts guest columns and letters to the editor about subjects meaningful to central Wisconsin residents. Guest columns do not necessarily reflect the views of Wausau Pilot & Review or its staff members.

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