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The debate surrounding the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or Obamacare, has intensified in the past few weeks. The Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce is watching this debate closely and asks that congressional leaders protect the institutions that serve as economic anchors for communities across our state--hospitals.

Arkansas hospitals treat every patient that enters their doors, regardless of their ability to pay. In rural areas, they are sometimes the only health-care provider within a reasonable drive.

When the ACA passed in 2009, the law included deep cuts to Medicare payments to hospitals. These cuts were made to fund other parts of the law, the idea being that higher numbers of insured patients would replace the Medicare funding. If the ACA is repealed, this Medicare funding must be immediately restored so our hospitals can continue providing vital care to their communities without any interruption of services or reduced capabilities.

So far, no proposed plan ensures the return of that lost money to our hospitals.

If the ACA is repealed without restoring these Medicare cuts, Arkansas hospitals stand to lose $3.1 billion over the next eight years. Nationally, that total rises to $400 billion. This is simply unacceptable.

When hospitals are not properly funded, access to care for our communities is threatened and impacts our ability to attract businesses and new jobs to those communities.

Sen. Tom Cotton has said he doesn't like the "draconian, across-the-board" cuts Medicare took with the ACA and that the current proposed American Health Care Act cannot pass the U.S. Senate. The Arkansas Chamber of Commerce would like to see our entire congressional delegation pledge to protect our hospitals and restore these Medicare cuts.

Hospitals are also very important to our local, regional and state economies. Not only do they provide and support thousands of jobs across Arkansas, but they factor strongly into corporate decisions about where to do business.

Supporting hospitals means improving the possibilities for a stronger Arkansas economy. Companies want to bring jobs to communities where employees will have good access to quality health care. A healthy work force is a more productive work force.

If Congress does not enact a proper replacement of the ACA, one that includes the restoration of Medicare cuts to hospitals, Arkansas will suffer an estimated loss in business output nearing $30 billion from 2019 to 2023. Those same estimates predict 28,000 lost jobs over the same time span, ranging from health care to construction.

There are many moving parts in the effort to replace the ACA, but Congress can get rid of some of the uncertainty surrounding this huge issue by taking a stand to properly fund hospitals.

These institutions are foundations of our communities and we cannot allow them to be inadequately funded at the expense of both the health of our citizens and the health of our economy.


Randy Zook is president and CEO of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce.

Editorial on 03/20/2017

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