Republican members of Congress are at home this week, with many of them getting an earful from anxious constituents about their plans to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act. A poll out Friday gives those lawmakers something to be anxious about, too.
The monthly tracking poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation finds overall support for the health law ticked up to 48 percent in February, the highest point since shortly after it passed in 2010. That was a 5-point increase since the last poll in December. (Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent project of the foundation.)
In addition, 6 in 10 people said they did not favor current GOP proposals for turning control of Medicaid, the federal-state program for low-income residents, over to the states or changing the federal funding method. More than half said Medicaid is important to them or family members.
The increase in the law’s popularity is almost entirely due to a spike in support among independents, whose approval of the law has risen to 50 percent, compared with 39 percent unfavorable. Continuing a trend that dates to the passage of the law, the vast majority of Democrats approve of it (73 percent), while the vast majority of Republicans disapprove (74 percent).
Poll respondents are also concerned about the way Republicans say they will overhaul the measure. While they are almost evenly divided between wanting to see the law repealed (47 percent) or not repealed (48 percent), very few (18 percent) of those favoring repeal support the idea of working out replacement details later. More than half of the repeal supporters (28 percent of the sample) say the repeal and the ACA’s replacement should come simultaneously.
Interestingly, even among Republicans, fewer than a third (31 percent) favor an immediate repeal, while 48 percent support simultaneous repeal and replacement, and 16 percent don’t want the law repealed at all.Use Our Content This KHN story can be republished for free (details).
Simultaneous repeal and replacement, which is what President Donald Trump has promised, could prove difficult since Republicans have not agreed to a plan. They are using a special budget procedure, called reconciliation, that allows them to move legislation with only a simple majority in the Senate, but that bill is limited in what it can remove from the law and what can be added to it. Other bills would likely have to overcome a filibuster by Democrats in the Senate, which requires 60 votes. Republicans currently have a 52-48 majority in that chamber.
When asked about the Republican plans to overhaul the Medicaid program, nearly two-thirds of those polled prefer the current Medicaid program to either a “block grant” that gives states more flexibility but would limit Medicaid’s currently unlimited budget, or a “per capita cap,” which would also limit spending to states but would allow federal funding to rise with enrollment increases.
Respondents also strongly favor letting states that expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act continue to receive federal funding. The Supreme Court in 2012 made that expansion optional; 31 states (plus Washington, D.C.) adopted it. Eighty-four percent said letting the federal funds continue was very or somewhat important, including 69 percent of Republicans, and 80 percent of respondents in states that did not expand the program.
Republicans are counting on savings from capping Medicaid to pay for other health care options they are advocating.
The national telephone poll was conducted Feb. 13-19 with a sample of 1,160 adults. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points for the full sample.
Treating people for free or for very little money has been the role of community health centers across the U.S. for decades. In 2015, 1 in 12 Americans sought care at one of these clinics; nearly 6 in 10 were women, and hundreds of thousands were veterans.
The community clinics — now roughly 1,300-strong — have also expanded in recent years to serve people who gained insurance under the Affordable Care Act. In 2015, community health centers served 24.3 million people — up from 19.5 million in 2010. Most of the centers are nonprofits with deep roots in their communities and they meet the criteria to be a federally qualified health center. That means they can qualify for federal grants and a higher payment rate from Medicaid and Medicare.
The ACA was a game changer for these clinics — it has enabled them to get reimbursement for much more of the care they provided, because more of their patients now had private insurance or were on Medicaid. Revenue at many clinics went up overall, and many of the health centers used federal funding available under the law to expand their physical facilities and add more services, such as dentistry, urgent care or mental health care.
With repeal of the ACA looming, clinic directors said they stay up at night wondering what’s next. We spoke with four, who all say their clinics are in a holding pattern as Congress debates the health law’s future.This story is part of a partnership that includes KPCC, WXXI, KJZZ, Colorado Public Radio, NPR and Kaiser Health News. It can be republished for free. (details)
Saban Community Clinic, Los Angeles
Julie Hudman, the CEO of Saban Community Clinic in Los Angeles, Calif., said there’s a lot at stake for her patients.
“A lot of the folks that we see are single adults,” she explained. “They’re maybe more transitional. They’re homeless patients. They have behavioral health challenges. They’re really, to be honest, some of the most vulnerable and poorest patients of all.”
Before the ACA went into effect, eligibility for Medi-Cal, as Medicaid is known in California, depended on a variety of factors, including income, household size, family status, disability and others. Under Obamacare, according to the California Department of Health Care Services, people can now qualify for Medi-Cal on the basis of income alone if their household makes less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level — that’s $16,395 for an individual and $33,534 for a family of four.
Prior the ACA, about half of the Saban clinic’s 18,000 patients were uninsured, Hudman said. They paid little for treatment — maybe a copay of $5 or $10. Almost all of those patients qualified for Medi-Cal after the health law expanded eligibility, she said, and that’s made a big difference for the clinic’s bottom line: Medi-Cal pays the clinic around $200 per patient visit.
These days, more than half of Saban’s revenue comes from health insurance. The possibility of losing some of that money, Hudman said, is forcing some hard decisions. She had been looking to lease or buy a fourth facility, she said, but now that plan is on hold; as are her hopes of expanding free help for the homeless.
“I’m not willing to move forward and take some of those risks,” she said. “I need to make sure that we’re able to pay our bills and pay our staff.”
Before the last election, Hudman said, “we had a lot of momentum moving forward. And now we’ve just sort of stalled.” — Rebecca Plevin, KPCC, Los Angeles
Jordan Health, Rochester, N.Y.
In the last few years, funding has been on the rise at Jordan Health, in Rochester, N.Y., and so has the extent of the clinic’s services.
The boost in funding has partly come from higher reimbursement rates the ACA authorizes, and from the increased number of patients at the clinic who have insurance. But Jordan Health, which has 10 locations in the area, has also benefited from the federal government’s pumping of more money into what are known as section 330 grants that enable expansion of services and facilities.
The 330 grant money gives qualified clinics the option of offering services that aren’t billable to insurance plans. At Jordan Health, the funds enabled the hiring of some different types of health practitioners who were not previously part of the team — dietitians, behavioral health specialists and care coordinators. And that, in turn, said Janice Harbin, president and CEO of Jordan Health, means patients can increasingly get the different kinds of care they need in one place.
Almost 90 percent of Jordan’s patients are considered a racial or ethnic minority, and over 97 percent live at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty line, according to data gathered by the federal Health Resources & Services Administration.
“When you’re dealing with a situation of concentrated poverty,” Harbin said, “your patient needs more than just ‘OK, let me give you a checkup, and pat you on the back and say now go out and do all these things I told you to do.'”
Jordan Health received an increase of about $1 million since 2013, according to its grant coordinator, Deborah Tschappat.
Tschappat said she expects Jordan will get about the same annual award in 2017, assuming federal funding for the 330 program stays about the same. If federal funding is cut significantly, they would potentially lose some services.
For now, Jordan Health plans to “expand services judiciously, while increasing efficiency and productivity,” Tschappat said.
In the coming months Harbin and her colleagues will be lobbying lawmakers in Albany and Washington, D.C., to renew Jordan’s funding — including the 330 grant, which is set to end in September.
“We’re used to doing a lot with a little, but we increasingly know that we do need to have financial support,” Harban said. “And that’s keeping us up at night.” — Karen Shakerdge, WXXI, Rochester
Adelante Healthcare, Phoenix
Adelante Healthcare has been part of the health safety net in Phoenix for nearly four decades — when its doctors began helping farm workers in the city’s surrounding fields. But the Affordable Care Act enabled Adelante to expand like a brand new business.
“Adelante has grown by 35 percent in the last 12 months,” said Dr. Robert Babyar, Adelante’s assistant chief medical officer. “We’ve increased our provider staffing — almost doubled our providers. And the number of services we provide has doubled.”
Adelante operates nine clinics throughout the Phoenix metro area. The one where Babyar met with me includes play areas for children and a dental office.
Most of their 70,000 patients are low-income and about half are covered by either Medicaid or KidsCare — Arizona’s version of the Children Health Insurance Program. In 2014, Arizona became one of the Republican-led states that expanded Medicaid under the ACA. That brought more than 400,000 people onto the state’s Medicaid rolls and created big demand for Adelante. Low-income patients who did not have insurance before the expansion had relied on Adelante’s sliding fee schedule. Much of that population now has health coverage, either through the ACA marketplace or the state.
“That opened up more options for our patients, more specialists they could see, procedures they could have done,” Babyar said.
As Congress moves to repeal and replace the health care law, Adelante is in a holding pattern. It has delayed the groundbreaking of a new site until later this year because of the uncertainty. A full repeal of the ACA — without a replacement that keeps its patients covered — would limit any future growth, and strain the new staff and resources it has added. It wouldn’t be the first time Adelante had to scale back its services because of changes to Medicaid. In 2010 and 2011, Arizona lawmakers froze enrollment for its CHIP program and for childless adults in Medicaid. Then, in 2012, Adelante lost more than a million dollars.
Babyar said it has taken several years to get their new patients into the system and working with doctors consistently to manage their conditions.
“All the progress we made with those patients to stay and be healthy — that can fall apart really quick,” said Babyar. — Will Stone, KJZZ, Phoenix
Denver Health, Denver
“Definitely this clinic has benefited from Obamacare,” said Dr. Michael Russum, who practices family medicine for Denver Health and helps lead the clinic. “And this population has benefited from Obamacare by the expansion of Medicaid.”
That’s what helped make the economics work as Denver Health put a new $26 million clinic in a high poverty neighborhood in 2016, said Dr. Simon Hambidge, Denver Health’s CEO of Community Health Services. With the ACA in place, he said, the health system was able to count on the new clinic having a population of paying patients with insurance that could help support it.
Hambidge predicted the hospital will weather the storm if Obamacare is repealed and there are serious cuts to safety-net programs, like Medicaid and Medicare, as some Republicans have suggested. But it will probably be harder to open new clinics in other high-need neighborhoods, he conceded.
“We’ll survive,” Hambidge said. “We may not be able to be as expansive, because we would be back to less secure times.” — John Daley, Colorado Public Radio
This story is part of NPR’s reporting partnership with local member stations and Kaiser Health News.
SAN MATEO — Little surprises Lynda Sutherland, who has been a licensed vocational nurse for 35 years at San Mateo Medical Center. But in the past few years, Sutherland said, she’s been surprised by what’s missing: the patients who used to return again and again to the public hospital for the same ailments.
“They’re just not coming back,” she said.
Spurred by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), medical centers like this one have overhauled the way they deliver care in an effort to keep patients healthier and out of hospital beds. They have connected newly insured patients with primary care doctors in outpatient clinics, helped them manage chronic diseases and tried to reduce their reliance on emergency rooms for routine care.
Now, with President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans pledging to repeal Obamacare, such hospitals fear the gains they have made could be lost or diminished. In particular, they worry that if patients lose health insurance, their revenue will fall — to the detriment of the patients, the hospital staff and the community.
“It would be felt on a daily basis,” said Erin O’Malley, director of policy for America’s Essential Hospitals, a nationwide association of nearly 300 hospitals that serve low-income patients. “Our mission will not be changing, but the challenges will be mounting … especially if we have a ‘repeal’ without a comparable ‘replace.’ ”
The California Hospital Association sent a letter Feb. 8 to California’s congressional delegation on behalf of hundreds of hospitals and health systems, saying that repealing the Affordable Care Act without replacing it “would upend the financial stability of hospitals and their patients.”This story also ran in San Francisco Chronicle. It can be republished for free (details).
The association wrote that it was particularly concerned about proposals that would reduce federal dollars for Medicaid, which was significantly expanded under the 2010 health law to include low-income childless adults. The association also expressed concern about dismantling the changes hospitals have made to promote the quality of care over the quantity. For instance, as a result of new financial penalties under Medicare, many hospitals invested in changes to ensure they weren’t readmitting patients too soon after discharge.
Although all hospitals would be affected if the health law were repealed, public and safety-net facilities such as San Mateo Medical Center would suffer more, said Gerald Kominski, director of the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.
“The Affordable Care Act has certainly stabilized the financial situation of safety-net providers,” he said. “If we roll back the ACA completely and don’t have a replacement plan that specifically improves funding for safety-net providers, then those hospitals are going to become more vulnerable again.”
Across the nation, hospitals that serve the poor have raised similar concerns. A recent analysis by America’s Essential Hospitals showed that hospitals could lose more than $40 billion in funding from 2018 to 2026 if the law is repealed.
Republicans have put forward several proposals that worry hospital administrators. Among them are Medicaid block grants, which could result in less funding for beneficiaries, and withdrawal of federal support for insurance exchanges.
About 72,000 patients are seen annually at the county-run San Mateo Medical Center, which includes the hospital and nine outpatient clinics. Before the health law took effect, 48 percent of patients were uninsured and 31 percent were on Medi-Cal, the state’s version of Medicaid. Now, 17 percent are uninsured and 57 percent have Medi-Cal.
“If Medicaid rolls back … not only does the revenue disappear, but then people will delay care, get sicker and then costs will go up,” said Chester Kunnappilly, CEO of the medical center.
The hospital and clinics receive $166 million annually in Medi-Cal revenue — which makes up about 60 percent of the total budget. At least $50 million would be at risk with a repeal of the ACA, Kunnappilly said.
“People will lose their jobs, and it becomes this vicious cycle,” he said. “How many people we can take care of continues to shrink because the teams get smaller.”
San Mateo Medical Center made numerous changes over the past few years to catch patients before they became seriously ill. For example, it created teams of outpatient providers — including pharmacists, medical assistants and social workers — to coordinate care. It began reminding patients when they needed to get mammograms and other preventive tests. They expanded substance abuse and mental health treatment, which was required to be covered under the law.
In addition, the medical center sent patients with urgent needs to “express care” so they wouldn’t have to go to the emergency room or wait to see their doctor. Hospital administrators changed the discharge process, sending some patients home with the medications they needed and even dispatching staff to visit others after release.
Dramatic changes were made by safety-net hospitals elsewhere in response to the ACA. In Los Angeles County, for example, a computer system was developed to the ensure less duplication of care and better monitoring of patients, and patients were assigned to clinics that served as their medical “homes.”
“The ACA provided the economic incentive to do what should have been done anyway,” said Mitch Katz, director of the Los Angeles County health department. “It won’t go back to the way it was done before.”
On a recent day at the San Mateo Medical Center, Marla Muniz, a 46-year-old waitress from San Mateo, came to a clinic at the medical center for a physical and treatment for worsening pain in her shoulders and arm. She has Medi-Cal now, because of the program’s expansion, after going years without health insurance.
“I am scared they are going to take away my Medi-Cal,” she said. “If I had a good job that paid well, it wouldn’t matter. But I don’t. And I have a lot of pain. I have more and more pain every day.”
Another patient, Michael Asip, was there to see one of his physicians. He’d enrolled in expanded Medi-Cal before turning 65, then switched to Medicare. Long uninsured, he had gone months without seeing a doctor even after a heart attack. Now, the San Mateo resident sees a cardiologist, a primary care doctor, a psychologist and an endocrinologist through the medical center.
Sumita Kalra, a physician at a primary care clinic, said she has seen numerous patients like Muniz and Asip who put off health care for years. When they finally got coverage through the ACA, some were diagnosed with diabetes, cancer and other serious diseases.
Now “we can catch those ticking time bombs before something worse happens,” Kalra said.
Louise Rogers, chief of the San Mateo County Health System, said that kind of change, fostered by the ACA, should not be reversed.
“We don’t want to see a turning back of the clock,” she said.
KHN’s coverage in California is funded in part by Blue Shield of California Foundation.