AMAC Exclusive – By Shane Harris
A bill that and would dramatically expand healthcare accessibility for low-income Americans was re-introduced in Congress on Thursday in what could be major victory for patients, healthcare providers, and taxpayers – and provide desperately-needed relief for families suffering under confusing and ineffective socialist healthcare laws like the Affordable Care Act.
The legislation, officially titled the Helping Everyone Access Long Term Healthcare Act, or HEALTH Act, would allow physicians to receive a simple tax deduction for pro bono care of patients who are eligible for Medicaid or the Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP). The bill was introduced by Republican Representative Daniel Webster of Florida, who also introduced the legislation last year.
The HEALTH Act, which would affect some 7 million Americans, is a prominent example of how groups of everyday citizens outside of Congress can influence national politics, as it was originally the brainchild of AMAC founder Dan Weber, who first saw the urgent need for it while on a trip to the Adirondack mountains with his daughter.
As the story goes, Weber had to go to the emergency room and was surprised to see this rural hospital packed full of people. While there, he encountered a young woman who had tragically just lost her baby to whooping cough.
Weber soon learned that the young woman did not have access to a pediatrician for her child, and that several of the primary care physicians in the area weren’t taking on Medicaid and CHIP patients – thus forcing them to wait in long lines at crowded hospitals.
Back home in Long Island, Weber asked around and found that this was a common problem. For most doctors’ offices, the amount of paperwork required to get a Medicaid or CHIP reimbursement often took more time than the reimbursement itself was worth.
That’s when Weber had the idea to just let a doctor write off a visit as charity care and get the value of the visit as a tax deduction in the same way someone donating goods or money to a non-profit can write off their charity. Currently, doctors can deduct charitable medical services to nonprofit organizations, but not services administered directly to individuals.
Weber’s resulting conversations with doctors and lawmakers became the HEALTH Act. The provisions of the bill simplify the paperwork for doctors, saving them time and money, while also expanding access to care for low-income Americans. Doctors will be able to claim a deduction of the value of service performed based on either Medicare or CHIP reimbursement rates or their usual rates.
With this burden lifted from doctors’ offices, Medicaid or CHIP eligible patients will then have the opportunity to develop the kind of doctor-patient relationships that are increasingly rare. Research has shown that fostering these relationships helps improve long-term outcomes for patients.
Streamlining the deduction process for doctors and cutting unnecessary layers of bureaucracy would also create billions in savings for taxpayers by moving low-income patients from emergency rooms to doctors’ offices and clinics for non-emergencies.
According to data on average costs for an emergency room visit vs. a doctors’ office visit, a patient seeing a physician under a visit covered by the HEALTH Act would result in a 95% savings rate for the taxpayer over that same patient visiting a hospital and using Medicaid. If just 7 million of the estimated nearly 20 million annual emergency room visits by individuals eligible for Medicaid became non-hospital visits, it would result in more than $6.5 billion in savings for taxpayers – while still providing all the benefits to doctors and patients mentioned above.
Even those patients who can access a primary care physician using Medicaid would benefit from the HEALTH Act. Switching to a simple tax-deductible pro bono system would free doctors and patients from the massive headache associated with the current complex system of paperwork and approvals, while again resulting in huge savings for taxpayers – an estimated $2.8 billion annually.
For all of these reasons, the HEALTH Act has earned the support of dozens of leading patient and health care organizations. When the bill was previously introduced in 2020, Free2Care, a coalition of healthcare organizations representing 37,000 physicians and 3 million members, applauded it for seeking to “expand access to quality health care for poor individuals and families by empowering physicians to practice charity care locally in their own offices.”
While Republican legislators have been the chief proponents of the HEALTH Act in the past, the bill presents the rare opportunity for a bipartisan win in a divided Congress. Increasing healthcare access for low-income Americans while also lowering costs for taxpayers and empowering doctors to care for their neighbors should be a policy that leaders from both parties can get behind.
Shane Harris is a writer and political consultant from Southwest Ohio. You can follow him on Twitter @Shane_Harris_.