The U.S. Senate bill to replace the Affordable Care Act would eliminate essential health benefits, including rehabilitative services, in Medicare expansion states and is cause for “great concern,” according to Peter Thomas, JD, general counsel for the National Association for the Advancement of Orthotics and Prosthetics.
Thomas commented on the Senate bill, called the “Better Care Reconciliation Act,” during a recent bipartisan Congressional briefing on the value of rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices. The bill, which was recently released to the public and followed by a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis, would also allow states to assign essential health benefits in private, individual and small group plans. Thomas said this would lead to the end of federal standards for such benefits.
“That is something that we have enjoyed for the last 6 [years] or 7 years,” Thomas said during the briefing. “It would ultimately, from what the CBO says, reduce coverage in this country by 22 million people. Of course, if you do not have health care coverage, you do not have coverage of rehabilitative services and devices and habitation. So, this is a great concern to everyone who cares about these benefits and even to those who may not even thing about these benefits.”
Thomas added that his statement was not partisan in nature, but rather “an objective analysis” of the current Senate bill.
“It is not a partisan issue,” he said. “This is care that is the very definition of health insurance.”
The briefing also included comments from Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.), as well as patients and clinicians with experience in rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices. Duckworth, who lost both of her legs to combat injuries while serving as a U.S. Army helicopter pilot in Iraq, also addressed the Senate health care bill and criticized its “severe cuts to Medicaid” and to other programs that benefit people with disabilities.
“[If] I did not have the wheelchair and the legs and the rehab that I had, I would not be in this position,” she said. “I would be at home, trapped in a suburb where there is not much public transportation. [I would be] unable to get around. If I did not have my car with hand controls, I could not get out of my house and I could not have campaigned. So, I think that our nation is better off when we support people’s access to basic health care, which I feel is a right. I do not care who you are, where you were born, whether you had an accident or congenital condition or whatever it is.”
Thompson, who prior to being elected to Congress worked for 28 years as a therapist, rehabilitation services manager and a licensed nursing home administrator, did not address the Senate bill. However, he discussed bills he had introduced that were aimed at benefitting people with disabilities.
“[At] the beginning of this Congress, I reintroduced the Access to Inpatient Rehabilitation Therapy Act for 2017, as well as the Medicare Orthotics and Prosthetics Improvement Act of 2017,” Thompson said at the briefing. “The Access to Inpatient Rehabilitation Therapy Act removes arbitrary barriers to those who need [the care of a rehab setting].”
He added that the Medicare Orthotics and Prosthetics Improvement Act “is about making sure that individuals are qualified. I have been proud to work with the industry on that.” – by Jason Laday