Statement from President and CEO of NJAMHAA on the Passage of the American Health Care Act

May 4, 2017

Statement from Debra L. Wentz, Ph.D., President and CEO, New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies, Inc. on the Passage of the American Health Care Act

MERCERVILLE, NJ - The New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies, Inc. (NJAMHAA) is greatly disappointed to learn that the American Health Care Act (AHCA) was passed by the House of Representatives earlier today. This bill, if passed into law, would be devastating to the healthcare landscape in New Jersey.

The recent separation of those with pre-existing conditions from the insurance market would have a devastating impact on the vulnerable population served by NJAMHAA's member providers: children and adults with mental illnesses, substance use disorders, and developmental disabilities. However, the impacts from the underlying provisions of the AHCA would be just as severely devastating to them.

It is estimated that more than a million New Jersey residents would lose healthcare coverage under the AHCA. Premiums will skyrocket for older adults; essential health benefits will no longer provide a standard of care; and Medicaid expansion, on which the community-based behavioral healthcare system in New Jersey is now overwhelmingly dependent, will be weakened. All of this would be shortsighted, with greater costs in the long term for those who cannot receive care in a timely manner. The immediate impact on New Jersey's budget is estimated at $4.6 billion; the long term effect would be even greater.

The Senate now needs to work to improve on the protections and coverages provided by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The ACA authorized Medicaid expansion, which enabled more than 500,000 New Jersey childless adults aged 21 to 64 to receive Medicaid coverage for the first time. Currently, New Jersey is transitioning providers of community-based mental health care and substance use treatment from contracts to fee-for-service reimbursement in order to maximize this federal Medicaid funding. The AHCA would significantly reduce this funding, and cripple New Jersey's community-based behavioral healthcare system.

The number of emergency room visits and inpatient hospitalizations would once again rise, both of which will cost the State billions of dollars more than community-based services. Loss of services would also lead to increased homelessness and incarceration, also at exorbitant costs to the State. To impose this risk while New Jersey and the rest of the nation is in the midst of an opioid/heroin epidemic is unconscionable.

NJAMHAA applauds Congressmen Leonard Lance, Frank LoBiondo and Chris Smith for protecting the interests of their constituents by voting "no" on the AHCA, and hopes that Congressmen Rodney Frelinghuysen and Tom MacArthur will do the same when they face another vote on health care.

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