Texas doctors on Obamacare: fix what’s bad, keep what’s good

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — President Trump’s new healthcare secretary, Tom Price, is starting his first week on the job. Price, a former congressman who has experience as a doctor, is known for pushing legislation that could be the blueprint for replacing the Affordable Care Act.

President Trump promised on the campaign trail he would repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. Secretary Price was the face of replacing the act while he was in Congress.

Doctors will be on the frontline of these policy changes. Several Texas doctors tell KXAN they want Washington to fix what’s broken, but keep what’s working.

On the east side of Austin, family physician Dr. Guadalupe Zamora says the Affordable Care Act brought patients in he never saw before. More than a million Texans now have health insurance that didn’t.

“It made an impact. Was it a perfect law? No. Was it a great law? Yes,” said Dr. Zamora.

Allowing people to stay on their parent’s plan until 26 years old and requiring coverage of preexisting conditions allowed Texas doctors to give care to more people than ever before. “If a patient came in there and had cancer, and they lost their health insurance. Then most insurance would insure them,’ said Dr. Zamora.

Dr. Sara Austin is a neurologist in Austin. (KXAN Photo)

But that coverage came with paperwork. Instead of what many were used to, doctors had to type out their notes and complete specialized forms, especially for Medicare and insurance companies.

“Instead of getting paid for my time with the patient, I get paid for having certain bullet points met of my documentation,” said Dr. Sara Austin, a neurologist, who describes horror stories about stacks of paperwork as true. Perhaps the biggest drawback was that Texans paid more for care and medicine.

“It was supposed to make medical care more affordable and I think that’s the biggest thing — it just hasn’t,” said Dr. Austin.

In the weeks ahead, both doctors hope Congress won’t repeal Obamacare without a replacement, describing that as a “worst” case scenario for Texans who wouldn’t otherwise have insurance. The numbers show how many they’re talking about. In 2010, before the law took effect, one in four Texans did not have health insurance. By 2015, that number dropped to about one in six.

Secretary Price’s idea in Congress has been pointed to by Republicans as a good starting place for a replacement plan.

Price’s bill would have offered tax credits focused on a person’s age to help people buy insurance policies on the private market.

Price has pushed the idea of letting insurance companies offer cheaper, less comprehensive policies to younger people and eliminate Obamacare mandates for insurers to include a standard package of benefits like maternity services and pediatric care. Price also wants to let consumers shop across state lines for health insurance, just like they can for other insurance products.

The U.S. Senate can repeal Obamacare whenever they decide to vote on the issue; they have enough Republicans to hold the line. A replacement plan will need 60 votes out of the 100 members of the Senate, and will need some support from Democratic senators.

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