Wisconsin Democrat: People 'terrified' of health care bill

MADISON -- People in Wisconsin are "terrified" about changes to the federal health care law being pushed by Republicans in the House, a Democratic state lawmaker said Thursday, March 23rd at a forum bringing together policymakers and the state's health care leaders.

The conference came as negotiations continued in Congress to get enough support to pass a Republican plan that would replace the Affordable Care Act. The plan is being championed by House Speaker Paul Ryan, of Janesville, but faced opposition from both moderate and more conservative Republicans both in the House and Senate, making its prospects murky. A vote was expected later Thursday.

Wisconsin health care advocates and policymakers were still trying to assess the impact of the proposed changes in the state, even as Republicans and President Donald Trump continued making changes to win enough votes for support. The Wisconsin Hospital Association estimated that 311,000 people in the state could lose their insurance by 2026.

"We can't overstate the impact this will have on the people we care about, provide services to," said Bobby Peterson, executive director of ABC for Health, a nonprofit Madison law firm that helps people get health care. His group organized the HealthWatch conference that included a panel discussion with three Democratic state lawmakers. Republican Rep. Andre Jacque, who had earlier confirmed his attendance, canceled on Wednesday, Peterson said.

Peterson called on the 100-plus attendees at the meeting to be a "strong voice in opposition" to the bill that would repeal the 2010 federal health care law, also known as "Obamacare," and replace it with a law that a nonpartisan congressional analysis says would result in 24 million people nationwide losing insurance over the next decade. The proposal is also expected to lead to higher premiums for people buying insurance on the private market, particularly older Americans who don't yet qualify for Medicare.

"I'm hoping a few people come to their senses and say we can do better," said Democratic Rep. Beth Meyers, of Bayfield.

Sargent said no one is exempt from being affected by the law change. The Congressional Budget Office analysis and others estimate that some people on employer-sponsored plans will lose insurance because the bill no longer would require employers to offer coverage.

"People in my district, quite frankly, are terrified," Sargent said.

Jon Peacock, research director for Wisconsin Children and Families, called the GOP proposal a "wrecking ball" that would erode the foundation of Medicaid and erase gains made in access to health care over the last decade.

Backers of changing the law, including Ryan and Gov. Scott Walker, have argued that the Affordable Care Act is a failure and must be changed. Supporters also point to the projected $337 billion in federal budget savings and more flexibility given to states in how they spend Medicaid money.