UPDATE (March 24, 4:35 EST): The House vote was rescheduled to Friday afternoon at 3:30 EST. The vote did not pass.
UPDATE (March 23, 4:00 pm EST): Shortly after this article was published, Thursday’s House vote on the revised American Health Care Act bill was cancelled. No new date has been announced yet. We’ll keep you updated as the story develops.
Today is a huge day for the Trump administration, the Republican party, and the nation. The House of Representatives will finally vote on the American Health Care Act (AHCA), the GOP’s replacement plan for Obamacare, on Thursday.
Democrats are uniformly opposed to the bill. A handful of moderate Republicans have also said they plan to vote no as well, but more conservative Republicans who didn’t think the bill was different enough from the existing Affordable Care Act are on board after a huge change came to the table Wednesday evening: President Trump agreed to consider removing a requirement that insurance companies cover “essential health benefits.”
If it sounds ludicrous that insurance companies wouldn’t be legally required to cover essential care, that’s because millions of Americans do actually depend on these services — it’s why they’re called “essential.”
According to Healthcare.gov, the marketplace health insurance website set up under Obamacare, essential health benefits include:
- Ambulatory patient services (outpatient care you get without being admitted to a hospital)
- Emergency services
- Hospitalization (like surgery and overnight stays)
- Pregnancy, maternity, and newborn care (both before and after birth)
- Mental health and substance use disorder services, including behavioral health treatment (this includes counseling and psychotherapy)
- Prescription drugs
- Rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices (services and devices to help people with injuries, disabilities, or chronic conditions gain or recover mental and physical skills)
- Laboratory services
- Preventive and wellness services and chronic disease management
- Pediatric services, including oral and vision care (but adult dental and vision coverage aren’t essential health benefits)
Just to recap, this means that Republicans have agreed to consider letting insurance companies get away with not covering hospitalization, maternity care, medical care for children, and mental health services (not to mention prescription drugs).
While this means that insurance premiums may be less expensive, it also means that those who need health care the most will have to pay a lot more for services.
Larry Levitt, Senior Vice President of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a health policy analysis and health journalism non-profit, tweeted Wednesday about what cutting essential health benefits would mean. According to Levitt, without a requirement to cover health care basics, insurance plans will become “quite skimpy.”
These cuts will have a huge impact on women, especially those who cannot afford to pay for health care needs that are not covered by their insurance policies. Not only would women and families be left paying additional costs for maternity and pediatric care, but studies have found that women also seek more mental health care than men.
It has already been predicted that 24 million people will lose health insurance under the AHCA, a loss that will be devastating for women’s health. Of course, it is the most vulnerable women who stand to lose the most under Trump’s healthcare bill.
According to a 2016 report from the Kaiser Family Foundation, “Low-income women, women of color, and immigrant women are at greater risk of being uninsured” and single mothers are the most likely to be uninsured. Going without insurance means less access to necessary care (like Pap smears and breast cancer screenings), and overall access only to lower standards of care, according to the report.
Doing away with essential benefits also spells terrible news for people with preexisting conditions. While the AHCA would preserve the Obamacare requirement regarding preexisting conditions, former Republican staffer and vice president of the consulting group ML Strategies Rodney Whitlock tells NPR that without essential benefits, protections for preexisting conditions will be “potentially meaningless.”
Women, the poor, and people with preexisting medical conditions have a whole lot to lose if the GOP decides to cut essential benefits from their healthcare bill. The change may persuade far-right Republicans to vote for the AHCA, but moderate Republicans are less likely to vote yes, which may mean the bill won’t even make it to the Senate.
What do you think about potentially losing the requirement for essential benefits? Tell us on Twitter @BritandCo.
(Photos via PIXNIO + Getty)