By Briana Vannozzi
“They’re basically saying, ‘Oh she’s sick so we have to charge her more for her medicine and more to be healthy.’ And I don’t know, I just think it’s not fair,” said rheumatoid arthritis patient Victoria Vitelli.
Patients with pre-existing conditions like 13-year-old Vitelli are bracing for drastic changes under the Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare.
“It’s our lives, it’s her health. She misses school when she’s ill, she misses school for treatment and if she doesn’t get treatment, she can get worse. So whether it’s political or the numbers or anything, it’s her life at stake,” said mother Daniela Vitelli.
Victoria was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis at age 8. And under the new bill, her medical treatments and coverage could skyrocket. She joined two of New Jersey’s federal lawmakers at Hackensack University Medical Center to share her worries. The legislation could leave 24 million Americans without coverage, 500,000 here in New Jersey. That, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
“We all stand willing to improve the Affordable Care Act, but we do not stand idly by to let it be slayed. Millions of people’s lives are at stake,” said Sen. Bob Menendez.
The American Health Care Act, as it’s called, eliminates the individual and employer mandate requiring people to buy insurance through the marketplace and the tax penalty for failing to do so.
But it also replaces the ACA subsidies to pay for insurance with refundable tax credits — primarily based on age — charging significantly more for older Americans. It ends the Medicaid expansion funding, which extended coverage to more than 10 million low-income Americans under Obamacare. It weakens coverage for essential health benefits. These are things like maternity care, mental health and prescription plans.
Bottom line: younger, healthier people will likely see their premiums decline, while older patients will see them rise with less money to help pay for coverage.
“I assure you this is repeal. There is no replacement. The people are going to lose their insurance, they’re going to pay more,” said Congressman Frank Pallone.
Debate on the House floor was fiery yesterday. Two New Jersey Republicans voted in favor — Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen and South Jersey Congressman Tom MacArthur, the chief architect of a waiver program to give states more flexibility, while also opening the door to increase prices for patients with pre-existing conditions.
“I’m proud to stand with a president who has a different answer, a president who trusts the states and ultimately trusts the American people,” MacArthur said.
What is Congressman Bill Pascrell doing now to speak with Republican counterparts in the Senate?
“I did talk to some and some have taken the attitude that they’re going to start right from the beginning again. Well we never had a hearing on this legislation. Where is the media talking about that? We had no discussions. We had no hearings on this thing we voted on yesterday. It’s bull. This is how they do things in Russia,” Pascrell said.
The bill still has to get through the Senate, where it faces a less than certain future and many likely revisions. An emotional Menendez today vowed to keep it from reaching the president’s desk.
“I am going to do everything — and I mean everything — to make sure this isn’t the result,” he said.