Congress should work together to regain healthcare momentum

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

At our facilities, we’ve succeeded by segmenting our challenges into their component pieces. This approach enables us to define and solve major issues step by step. We often generate better results by building upon a series of smaller successes to achieve our ultimate goal. It’s quite possible this approach could work on major issues at the federal level. With the debate over wholesale changes to healthcare set aside, Congress should focus on healthcare issues that need immediate attention — on historically bipartisan issues that can be addressed in digestible pieces.

One is the need to stabilize 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. It would shore up the individual health insurance market, provide more flexibility in covering residents of states like Texas and allow wider availability of catastrophic plans.

The Alexander-Murray bill would strengthen the individual insurance markets and restore cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments, which help make coverage affordable for lower-income enrollees. Incredibly, this bill would accomplish these goals while also saving taxpayers an estimated $4 billion. This legislation demonstrates the type of results possible through thoughtful collaboration.

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

In addition to addressing the individual insurance market, continued federal funding for the recently expired Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) needs immediate attention. CHIP ensures that children who don’t qualify for Medicaid but whose parents can’t afford private insurance have access to affordable care offered by pediatricians, specialists and hospital care when needed. Fortunately, both political parties are working to extend funding to CHIP.

Federal support for community health centers is another pressing issue which has traditionally received strong bipartisan support; we are encouraged by legislation that has been announced. Regardless of what happens with the overall healthcare debate in the future, those centers will remain an essential component of our healthcare delivery system because of the role they play providing healthcare services in underserved communities.

Two more issues — access to care for veterans and prescription drug pricing — also require urgent action. Regarding veterans, Congress provided emergency funding for the Veterans Choice Act in August, and continues to rely on bipartisan support for reauthorization. We strongly support this important work, which honors our commitment to those who have served our country.

Pharmaceutical pricing continues to be a challenge, and several bipartisan proposals, such as the Creating and Restoring Equal Access to Equivalent Samples (CREATES) Act, would help eliminate barriers to generic competition, ultimately reducing drug prices. That could make important medications accessible to patients and slow the rate of healthcare inflation — a goal supported by both major parties.

In Texas, we are experiencing a “brain drain” as we wait for the renewal of what’s known as the 1115 Medicaid Waiver —  an innovative program to improve health outcomes and lower costs of caring for our uninsured community members. While we appreciate our Texas delegation and governor advocating for its renewal, doctors and nurses hired to implement innovative approaches to improving the health of our community are being recruited or leaving because the federal Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services has not approved the Texas 1115 waiver.

While wholesale healthcare overhaul may present major political challenges, these individual issues can be negotiated as important pieces of the puzzle. Texas’s federal representatives and senators, with their colleagues across the aisle in Congress, should 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-supported hospitals. And we look forward to hearing soon on the 1115 waiver renewal.

Patients and families in Texas are in need and are looking to our leaders for direction. We encourage Congress and CMS to act now.

Disclosure: The Seton Healthcare Family has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Craig Cordola

President & CEO, Ascension Texas