By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS

Congenital heart disease survivor Cassidy Collins (center) spoke Thursday in Washington, D.C., alongside Dr. LaShawn McIver (left), of the American Diabetes Association, and Mark Schoeberl, of the American Heart Association. (Photo by Clare Rizer)

Congenital heart disease survivor Cassidy Collins (center) spoke Thursday in Washington, D.C., alongside Dr. LaShawn McIver (left), of the American Diabetes Association, and Mark Schoeberl, of the American Heart Association. (Photo by Clare Rizer)

Patients, doctors and several leading health groups joined Thursday in the nation’s capital to voice significant concerns about the American Health Care Act, soon after the House Budget Committee narrowly approved the healthcare overhaul with a 19-17 vote. The bill will soon be brought to the House floor for debate.

Leaders from the American Heart Association, American Medical Association, American Diabetes Association and the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network spoke about how policies proposed in the bill will put critical patient protections and disease prevention efforts at risk.

AMA President Andrew W. Gurman, M.D., stressed that any future healthcare legislation must meet the criteria of the Consensus Health Care Reform Principles outlined last week by 11 public health groups, including those taking part in the event.

But the current proposal before Congress does not.

“Providing adequate coverage for all Americans is an issue that cannot be ignored,” said AHA Executive Vice President Mark Schoeberl, who also spoke at the event.

Schoeberl called the Congressional Budget Office’s assessment — which found that 24 million Americans could lose health coverage if the law passed — a “wake-up call” and urged lawmakers to keep preventive protections in place.

LaShawn McIver, M.D., the ADA’s interim chief advocacy officer, said the bill’s proposed cuts to the Public Health Prevention Fund would be devastating for people with and at risk for chronic conditions. ACSCAN President Chris Hansen noted half of all cancer diagnoses in the coming year could be avoided if all patients had access to proper preventive care.

Patients who would be impacted by the legislation also voiced their concerns. AHA volunteer Cassidy Collins was born with a congenital heart defect and needs continuous specialized care. The college freshman worries the proposed changes will make healthcare coverage for her ongoing treatment unaffordable and render her “uninsurable.”

Collins said her passion for writing has had to “take a backseat” as she looks for a job that provides quality, affordable health insurance. The unpredictability of her condition has caused her to consider the necessity of selecting a major that can offer more lucrative job options.

“I know that in my case anything can happen at any time,” said Collins, who is majoring in both communication studies and creative writing.

Cancer patient and Medicaid beneficiary Laurie Merges shared her own fears of losing coverage while still undergoing treatment should the Affordable Care Act be repealed without an immediate replacement.

Merges lost her job in 2015 after a corporate downsize and soon after was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“No one should have to battle life-or-death disease with the anxiety of changes in coverage hanging over their head,” Merges said.

AHA CEO Nancy Brown, who was not at the event, said the American Health Care Act makes coverage less available and less affordable.

“Under the Republicans’ ACA repeal plan, too many Americans struggling with the burden of heart disease and stroke will now have another worry to deal with – can they continue to obtain and afford the quality health care they deserve?” she said.

“Over the next two decades nearly half of the U.S. population will be dealing with preexisting cardiovascular conditions and our health insurance system must be fine-tuned constantly to ensure affordable, accessible coverage for both those who desperately need it today and in the future,” Brown said.

In Washington, D.C., the groups called for bipartisan solutions and for Congress to come together for the sake of patients.

“A partisan approach will not be sustainable,” said Gurman. “We demand that our lawmakers put patients before politics.”