Republican lawmakers are hoping to ensure pre-existing conditions for Arizonans are still covered if they get their wish and a lawsuit against the landmark Affordable Care Act succeeds in striking down the 2010 law that has drastically cut the number of uninsured people nationwide.
That law, the hallmark of President Barack Obama’s time in office, did away with the practice of insurance companies raising rates – or completely denying coverage – for people with pre-existing conditions.
The federal government estimates that as many as half of all Americans have a pre-existing condition that is affected by the Affordable Care Act’s provisions.
Senate Bill 1397 says that health care providers in Arizona cannot deny coverage or impose any restriction due to pre-existing conditions.
“I’m actually pretty excited about this bill,” Sen. J.D. Mesnard told the Senate Finance Committee Wednesday, which he chairs. “I’m hoping we will be on the same page.”
The bill comes as a lawsuit that aims to declare the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional is making its way through the federal appellate courts. Arizona is one of the plaintiffs in the case, known as Texas v. United States, which is seeking to overturn the whole law on the grounds that the mandate that everyone purchase insurance is unconstitutional.
Mesnard, a Chandler Republican, told the committee that Attorney General Mark Brnovich is in support of the bill, and last year both Mesnard and Brnovich said they wanted to keep pre-existing conditions covered if the Affordable Care Act was nixed.
SB1397 wouldn’t go into effect unless the lawsuit is successful.
Critics of the bill were concerned it doesn’t do enough to protect Arizona patients.
Sen. Sean Bowie, D-Phoenix, said the bill has nothing in it to help protect Arizona residents from insurance companies spiking prices due to pre-existing conditions and is lacking many of the protections of the Affordable Care Act.
Mesnard said he is open to suggestions on the bill but added that his bill is not meant to become a new version of the federal health care law.
The committee also heard from two Arizona residents who opposed the bill.
Kimberly Dorris has an autoimmune disease and said she has benefited greatly from the Affordable Care Act’s pre-existing condition clause, as well as other parts of the law. Dorris said she fears Arizona residents will become subject to price gouging because Mesnard’s bill doesn’t include measures such as preventing lifetime caps on spending by insurance.
“I issue a challenge to SB1397 sponsors: Give up your state insurance plan and buy on the individual market in 2021,” Dorris told the committee. “Then you can view SB1397 through the lens that, if the ACA fails, these are your guardrails, not just some abstract PR campaign.”
The committee also heard from Cindy Comar, who has a son who’s medicine for his blood disease costs $40,000 a month. She applauded them for trying to tackle the issue, but said she is worried it does not go far enough.
Although Democrats on the committee voiced concerns, the measure passed unanimously.
“I will be supporting the bill because it is obviously better than nothing, but I would like us to have a larger conversation,” Bowie said.
But Republicans didn’t show much enthusiasm for having that conversation.
“This is no ACA, and was not designed to be a replacement for the ACA,” Sen. Vince Leach, R-Tucson, said, adding that he didn’t want the bill to become a “psuedo-ACA”.
Democrats have introduced their own legislation to cover pre-existing conditions, Senate Bill 1599. It would cover pre-existing conditions and prevent insurance companies from price gouging, among other protections that are currently active in the ACA. It has yet to be assigned to a committee.