By Joyce Frieden
MedPage Today, March 23, 2017
WASHINGTON — As House Republicans wrestled with moving their Affordable Care Act (ACA) replacement bill along on Capitol Hill on Thursday, physicians who opposed the legislation also were making their voices heard.
Several doctors participated in a rally against the bill — known as the American Health Care Act (AHCA) — held here at Freedom Plaza, within sight of a hotel owned by President Trump, on the seventh anniversary of the Affordable Care Act’s enactment.
“I’m here to support the folks who want to make sure the ACA is not repealed,” said Manan Trivedi, MD, president of the National Physicians Alliance, a group that advocates for high-quality, affordable healthcare for all.
“This bill has gone from bad to worse in a matter of 24 hours or so. The same folks who criticize backroom deals and writing a bill in the middle of the night are doing [just] that, but much worse … They’re essentially taking away critical health benefits from poor and middle-class families just to give tax cuts to 0.9% of [wealthy] America. It’s unfathomable what they’re trying to do and how they’re trying to do it so quickly.”
If it ends up passing, the AHCA “would devastate so many of my patients,” continued Trivedi, an internist and hospitalist in the Washington area. “I’ve seen firsthand folks who couldn’t afford insurance now being able to come to the ER, be admitted, and get follow-up appointments because of the ACA” and who would be hurt if it were repealed. “And this is not to mention the disease outbreaks, childhood lead poisoning, and infections with superbugs that would likely increase because of the plan in this new legislation to eliminate the Prevention and Public Health Fund.”
The current efforts to push the bill through are “a game the Republicans are having because they don’t believe in healthcare as a human right,” said Harvey Fernbach, MD, a psychiatrist in College Park, Md., and a board adviser to Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), a group that supports single-payer health insurance. “Obamacare was a good effort but it’s not quite what we want … The simplest idea is to expand and improve Medicare for all.”
The bill the Republicans are proposing “is a major step backwards,” said Deborah Schumann, MD, a retired ophthalmologist from Bethesda, Md., who is active in PNHP and Healthcare NOW of Maryland. “The Republican plan, they call it ‘Obamacare light’ but it’s really ‘Obamacare draconian.’ It’s going to hurt a lot of people.”
“I have been a single-payer advocate for a long time, and I was not super happy about Obamacare, but we got it and it did give a lot of people insurance, although it didn’t give everybody affordable healthcare,” she said. “This is going to make healthcare even less affordable.”
Rally participants heard from several other speakers, including former congressman Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), who is now deputy chairman of the Democratic National Committee; Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), whose district includes Flint; and Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. After the rally ended, the group marched to the Trump hotel, chanting anti-AHCA slogans.
Richards also took part in a conference call Thursday morning with Hal Lawrence III, MD, CEO of the American Congress of Obstetricians & Gynecologists (ACOG); participants discussed what would happen if the Republicans were successful in their efforts — via a provision in the AHCA — to defund Planned Parenthood.
“The effort to defund Planned Parenthood would force the closure of clinics around the country and negatively impact patients and healthcare providers,” said Lawrence. “Planned Parenthood is where many of our members practice, and many patients go to get their healthcare needs met.”
While he couldn’t give a specific figure, Lawrence estimated that more than 1,000 ACOG members work at Planned Parenthood clinics. “If these clinics close, physicians could no longer practice there there and whether or not they have practice alternatives around the community, we don’t know,” he told MedPage Today. “They may be forced to leave the community or state. The other thing is patients will no longer have access to ob/gyns and … there are not other providers out there ready to absorb this number of patients.”
Joyce Frieden is news editor at MedPage Today.