In the midst of a pandemic, President Donald Trump is trying to eliminate heath insurance programs Michiganders like Flint’s Carol-Anne Blower rely on.
FLINT, MI — For a three-minute telemedicine appointment, Flint’s Carol-Anne Blower was charged nearly $200 out of pocket — with insurance.
That’s insurance Michiganders could lose if President Donald Trump successfully dismantles the Affordable Care Act, which keeps millions of families able to access healthcare coverage.
At the height of the novel coronavirus pandemic, Blower had a sinus infection. She knew what was wrong and what medication she needed; she just needed a prescription for it. But her primary care physician was closed, so she had to choose between telemedicine and an emergency room.
“Had I gone back and did it again, I think I would kind of research my options better before jumping into something like telemedicine,” Blower told The ’Gander. She now recommends that everyone be careful. “This is all new to everyone,” she said. “You really should look at it from your own perspective and how it’s gonna affect you and not just because [telehealth] is the norm now.”
The price was for a first-time appointment, totally irrespective of the length of that appointment. So despite it only being three minutes long, Blower was billed for a full appointment. She believed there has to be a better way “than billing everyone $200.”
“I didn’t need additional services, I just needed a prescription,” Blower said. “I wasn’t even sure I talked to a doctor. I think I just talked to a nurse practitioner or something.”
The $176 Blower had to pay was after her insurance. If that insurance is taken away, the cost of telemedicine during a pandemic could be much more for millions of Americans. Conversely, strengthening America’s healthcare system would lessen those costs.
Trump Is Still Fighting Against the Affordable Care Act
Health insurance is important during a public health crisis. Patients regularly have to weigh their health options against costs, like Blower suggested, though often for more dire situations than a sinus infection.
Dr. Rob Davidson described in a recent op-ed for the Washington Post a cancer patient who couldn’t get a necessary scan because she had to go to work in the hope of receiving health insurance so she could treat her condition.
“Had she received regular tests and checkups, she would not be where she was, seized once again by what was likely cancer in an advanced stage,” wrote Davidson. “Even as I tried to talk her through some next steps she should take, she was rushing out the door, trying to get to her new job on time, because without paid sick leave, her medical emergency was just another workplace no-show, a demerit that could get her fired.”
Davidson, who works in emergency medicine at a rural West Michigan hospital, is the director of the insurance advocacy group the Committee to Protect Medicare. He directly linked the dangers of lacking insurance like his patient faced with the coronavirus with the decision of the Trump Administration to attack the Affordable Care Act during the pandemic.
“Around 30 million Americans are already uninsured to begin with. Trump is cutting even more, without a plan to replace the ACA,” Davidson wrote. “His reckless effort to eliminate the ACA now could also take away health care or raise costs for 130 million Americans with preexisting conditions, and the consequences for people during this pandemic will be far-reaching and dire.”
Davidson referred to the Trump Administration’s argument filed in California v. Texas, where the administration argued that without the individual mandate that the Supreme Court struck down in 2017, the broader Affordable Care Act itself becomes unconstitutional.
The individual mandate was the requirement that every American have some form of health insurance. Eliminating the mandate substantially weakened the law’s health insurance reforms to the point that the Trump Administration argues it effectively meant the entire ACA was now invalid.
Blower said she hasn’t gotten her itemized bill yet, so doesn’t know what she’d have paid for a three-minute telemedicine appointment without coverage. She expressed trepidation about seeking medical care with what the appointment cost her even with her insurance, however.
And that trepidation compounds with other factors preventing coronavirus patients from seeking treatment.
“Patients with classic symptoms of COVID-19 too often come in late, thinking they can ride out a fever only to stumble into the ER gasping for air like fish on a dock. By then, their condition has worsened,” wrote Davidson. “If they survive COVID-19, the end of the ACA could allow insurance companies to deny them health care, citing preexisting conditions resulting from COVID-19-related complications such as stroke and chronic lung disease.”
COURIER reports the Trump Administration doesn’t have a plan for what it would replace the ACA with. Biden, on the other hand, does.
“[Coronavirus patients] would live their lives caught in a vise between Donald Trump’s twin legacies: his failure to protect the American people from the coronavirus, and his heartless crusade to take healthcare protections away from American families,” said the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden at a speech in Pennsylvania.
Strengthening the ACA
Joe Biden, Trump’s opponent in November, has made protecting and restoring the full strength of the Affordable Care Act a signature campaign promise. He was the vice president when the plan was enacted and played a large role in getting it passed.
While Healthcare Dive explains that this effort to make ACA plans more appealing to Americans is largely supported by insurers, Biden has other healthcare reform proposals as well.
Most notably, that includes a “public option,” a government-run healthcare plan not unlike Medicare that individuals of any age or insurance status could opt into instead of either their current coverage or being uninsured.
Biden also supports an end to surprise billing, a practice Michigan legislators started to tackle early in the pandemic. He also wants to lower the age to access Medicare to 60.