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Opinion

Health care bills imperil regional economy

That sigh of relief on the stalled Senate health care bill isn’t just from regional hospitals, clinics, providers and patients, but from business interests who fear the economic effects.

Since 2013, the region has added 5,200 health care jobs, which is comparable to adding another Fairchild Air Force Base. Greater Spokane Incorporated, which has fought to keep the base, has also weighed in on the effects of repealing the Affordable Care Act without a reasonable replacement.

GSI recently sent a letter to Washington’s congressional representatives pointing out the consequences of adopting the House bill, known as the American Health Care Act. Since then, the details of the Senate bill have been released and the Congressional Budget Office has assessed it.

Bottom line: It isn’t much better, causing 22 million Americans to lose coverage over the next decade. The loss of coverage would also mean the loss of jobs in health-related fields. About 20 percent of jobs in the region are connected to health care.

Spokane County experienced the state’s largest enrollment in Medicaid after the ACA was adopted. At the same time CHAS Health increased employment by 50 percent, in large part to service the expanded Medicaid population. Overall, the county’s uninsured rate has plunged from 17 percent to 3 percent. Hospitals have experienced a precipitous drop in unpaid charity care with the advent of expanded health care coverage. That, in turn, has helped boost the economic prospects of health care providers. The ACA also provided crucial funds needed to help start a teaching health center at WSU Spokane. Even Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who voted to repeal the ACA, wants to find a way to preserve that type of funding.

If Congress adopts the House or Senate bills or something resembling them, all of those positive trends would be thrown into reverse. That isn’t just the view of Democrats. It’s the view of the Congressional Budget Office, whose director was placed there by congressional Republicans.

It is also the view of largest business organization in Eastern Washington, which is not a traditional water carrier for liberal policies. If GSI thought the tax cuts and health care changes being considered by Congress were better for the region’s economy, it would say so.

Instead, GSI leaders wrote, “These changes will ultimately lead to significant job loss in this vital sector of our economy.” There was a time when the ACA was branded as a “job killer.” Now its repeal has job creators worried.

The Affordable Care Act provided a foundation to expand access to care, but it is by no means perfect. Better cost controls are needed, and millions of people still aren’t covered. Congress should work on improving it, not returning the country to a time when millions more Americans lacked health care coverage.

Such a disruption would lead to a sicker populace and an unhealthy economy.

To respond to this editorial online, go to www.spokesman.com and click on “Opinion.”


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