It seems unlikely that a Republican-led government will pursue efforts to decrease out-of-pocket expenses. More likely, new proposals will aim to provide tax benefits to encourage use of health savings accounts (HSAs), continuing the shift of health care to employees.11 HSAs benefit employers, who pay less for the health care costs of employees, but are associated with worsened adherence to recommended treatments for patients.8,12
A 2016 study analyzed health care policies considered by Trump, including the following:
- Full repeal of the ACA.
- Repeal of the ACA plus tax deductions of health insurance premiums.
- Repeal of the ACA plus block grants to states for Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
- Repeal plus promotion of selling health insurance across state lines.
Not surprisingly, all four scenarios resulted in significant increases in out-of-pocket expenses for those in individual insurance plans.13
Although at the time of writing, the “replace” segment of “repeal-and-replace” is not known, Mr. Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), has given a hint of what he would champion based on his prior legislative proposals. Along with his support of increasing accessibility of armor-piercing bullets, reduced regulations on cigars, and opposition to expanding the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, he proposed H.R. 2300, “Empower Patients First Act.” This would eliminate the ACA’s Medicaid expansion and replace it with flat tax credits based on age, not income, which turns out to offer greater subsidies relative to income for those with higher incomes. A 30-year-old would, on average, face a premium bill of $2,532, along with a potential out-of-pocket liability of $7,000, with only a $1,200 credit to cover this from Mr. Price’s plan.14
So what’s a conscientious advocate for the physical and financial health of patients to do? Beyond political action, hospitalists need to keep abreast of the effect of changes in health care policy on their patients, as unpleasant as it may be. Do you know what the copays and out-of-pocket costs are for your patient’s (or your own) health care? Knowing how your recommendations for treatment and follow-up affect your patient’s pocketbook will not only help protect their finances, but will also protect their health, as people are less likely to be compliant with treatment if it involves out-of-pocket costs.
And easy as it would be to simply tune out the partisan rancor, stay engaged as a citizen, if for nothing else, the benefit of your patients.
Dr. Chang is pediatric editor of The Hospitalist. He is associate clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of Massachusetts, Worcester, and chief of pediatric hospital medicine at Baystate Children’s Hospital, Springfield, Mass. Send comments and questions to [email protected].
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