Asbury Park Press

NJ's MacArthur Takes Lead In New GOP Health Bill

Asbury Park Press — April 26, 2017

By Michael L. Diamond

New Jersey's U.S. Rep. Tom MacArthur says the amended health care bill that now bears his name would lower costs, protect consumers and bridge a divide between the Republican Party.

But critics on Wednesday called the new version worse than the original.

"It would still cause millions to lose coverage and increase costs," said Maura Collinsgru, health care program director for New Jersey Citizen Action, a left-leaning consumer advocacy group. "The only difference now is states can allow insures to refuse to cover essential health benefits and charge pre-existing customers more."

MacArthur, a Republican whose districts includes Ocean and Burlington counties, has spearheaded the GOP's bid to revive the American Health Care Act a month after it failed to enlist enough support for a vote in the House of Representatives. Considered a moderate, he has been so central to the issue that the changes to the AHCA have become known as the MacArthur Amendment.

The bill would replace the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. And it would have the biggest impact on 839,000 New Jerseyans who are insured through the individual marketplace or the Medicaid expansion that were created by the ACA.

MacArthur was the only New Jersey congressman to support the replacement bill in its original form. It would have taken $880 billion out of Medicaid during the next decade. And younger, wealthier consumers buying individual insurance would have been eligible for more subsidies, while older, lower-income consumers would have been eligible for less, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation study.

The AHCA drew opposition from moderate Republicans who were concerned cuts to Medicaid would take away health care from lower-income constituents. And it drew opposition from conservative Republicans who were opposed to too much government intervention in the health care system.

MacArthur appealed to conservatives. And the House's conservative Freedom Caucus said Wednesday it supported the bill. U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, a Republican who represents Atlantic County and part of Ocean County, said he still opposed the amended bill because it doesn't do enough to protect Medicaid. U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, a Republican who represents portions of Monmouth, Ocean and Mercer counties and opposed the initial bill, said Wednesday night he still would vote against it.

Among the changes:

MacArthur sent a fact sheet, saying at least some of the criticism lodged against his amendment was a myth. He noted that the AHCA sets aside $100 billion over 10 years to help states with high-risk pools. And it sets aside an additional $15 billion into that fund to ensure consumers would have access to maternity care, mental health care and substance abuse treatment.

ACA supporters renewed their opposition. They said high-risk pools traditionally haven't had enough money to cover their costs. And the AHCA provisions they originally fought remain in place. It means more consumers would lose insurance and New Jersey would lose billions in federal money, they said.

Southern Jersey Family Medical Centers, which has offices in MacArthur's Burlington County, would lose as much as 20 percent of its revenue, forcing it to scale back its services and lay off employees, Linda Flake, president and chief executive officer, said.

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