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After Health Care Bill Failure, Experts Grapple with Future of Mass. Care

By Ike J. Park, Contributing Writer

State politicians and health care executives from around Massachusetts gathered at the Kennedy School to grapple with possible changes to health care policy under President Donald Trump’s administration Tuesday.

Around a dozen attendees voiced opinions on a Trump-sponsored health care bill that—in a significant victory for the Affordable Care Act—Republicans pulled from consideration in the U.S. House of Representatives Friday. Trump repeatedly promised to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act throughout his presidential campaign, and often voiced qualms with the policy, one of former President Barack Obama's major initiatives.

The Affordable Care Act currently insures millions of Americans, including hundreds of thousands of Massachusetts residents.

Audrey J. Shelto, president of Massachusetts’s Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation, said had the bill passed, it would have had widespread ramifications for Mass. residents.

“The House bill that got pulled on Friday was going to have a major, major impact on coverage for vulnerable people in Massachusetts,” she said. “We really dodged a huge bullet on Friday, but it is definitely not over.”

Steven M. Walsh, who directs Mass.’s Council of Community Hospitals, a non-profit that ensures quality care at public hospitals across the state, said he agreed with Shelto. He added he still remains afraid for the future of health care.

“My trepidation has not ended. Since Friday, it has actually increased. I think that it would be a mistake if we were to relax,” he said. “We’re entering into a phase with total unpredictability by somebody who absolutely writes legislation with vitriol.”

Panelists spoke at length about various ways to improve the Affordable Care Act by cutting costs. Shelto said the federal government should ensure quality housing for more Americans in addition to providing public health care.

“A study was able to show that providing [housing], which of course takes up-front investment, the ambulance visits go down, ER admissions go down, the re-admissions go down,” she said.

Walsh added that he thinks the government should better promote healthy behavior on a smaller scale.

“Let’s pay them to be healthy and pay them to make the right choices. That is far, far less expensive than the cost on the other end, if they make the wrong choices,” he said.

The event, organized by the Kennedy School’s Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston, was also attended by Mass. State Senator William N. Brownsberger ’78. Brownsberger said after the event that he found the conversation “helpful.”

“We’ve got some great minds here at the Kennedy School and they do a great job bringing practitioners together to talk about what is going on,” Brownsberger said.

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