Loeffler releases new healthcare plans

Healthcare becomes a central policy battle with Warnock

Sen. Kelly Loeffler released a group of detailed healthcare plans Friday as she moved into a one-on-one runoff campaign for her Senate seat against Rev. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat and senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church.

In remarks on the campaign trail, Loeffler has said she wants to see a market-based approach to expanding health care coverage rather than government-supported programs like a public option for consumers seeking health insurance or Medicare for All.

Warnock has signaled support for a public option, but does not support Medicare for All.

Among Loeffler’s goals with the plans released Friday, she said, are ensuring Georgians with pre-existing conditions are covered by health insurance, lowering drug costs, ending surprise medical bills; expanding affordable insurance options, and focusing on COVID recovery for the nation.

Americans with pre-existing conditions are covered under current law, but with a challenge to the Affordable Care Act from Republican state attorneys general now before the U.S. Supreme Court, the future of the law is unclear. In addition to requiring coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, the ACA also allows adults up to 26 to remain in their parents' health plans; bans annual and lifetime caps; and provides optional Medicaid expansion for states that opt-in.

In developing her specific plans, Loeffler heard from health care providers and industry veterans, and also leaned on her own experience as a financial services executive. Her husband, Jeff Sprecter, is CEO of Intercontinental Exchange, while Loeffler served as CEO of Bakkt, an ICE subsidiary, until her Senate appointment in December of 2019.

“The Modernizing Americans' Health Care Plan” is a collection of more than one dozen new pieces of legislation sponsored or co-sponsored by Loeffler, along with three measures already signed into law. Loefflers’ plans address health care issues ranging from patients' credit scores after receiving unexpectedly high medical bills to the supply chain for pharmaceuticals, which are often manufactured in China before ending up in American consumers' medicine cabinets.

To cover people with pre-existing conditions specifically, Loeffler would create “Guaranteed Coverage Plans” to help cover patients with pre-existing conditions. She would also provide a one-time federal tax credit toward Health Savings Account contributions for low-income families with pre-existing conditions.

Guaranteed issue plans existed before the ACA passed, but the details and availability of the plans determined whether people could fully access them.

Many items in Loeffler’s new health plans are fully drafted, detailed legislative language. Others are more aspirational, like a suggestion to “modernize Medicare Part D,” the prescription drug program for Medicare recipients.

Loeffler also puts forward several novel concepts, like creating a “Chief Pharmaceutical and Medical Supply Chain Negotiator” position in the Office of the United States Trade Representative to advocate for U.S. consumers in prescription drug-related trade deals.

Veterans mental health services, rural hospitals, and telehealth are also addressed.

Loeffler’s plans come not only as she is in a fight against Rev. Raphael Warnock, but also as an alarming number of Georgians go without health insurance, especially women.

An analysis of census data by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that Georgia ranked 47th out of 50 states for coverage in 2019, with 13.4% of its population between ages 19 and 64, or 1.38 million working-age Georgians, uninsured.

Georgians' anxiety about health care was reflected in an Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll of likely voters leading up to Election Day, when 71% called health care important or very important in deciding who they would vote for..

Warnock has said throughout the campaign that he’d like to see the ACA strengthened and Medicaid expanded as a way to provide more affordable coverage to low-income people in the state.

On Thursday, he also endorsed adding a public option to the measure.

“When we were trying to pass the Affordable Care Act a few years ago, I was disappointed that we didn’t pass the public option,” Warnock told the AJC. “And I think that that would be a viable path in this moment, something that I would like to see.”

He called Loeffer’s proposals Friday “a sham plan,” and said nothing that the senator outlined would ensure that insurance companies cannot discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions.