That prospect sent shock waves through the healthcare industry, as evidenced by a snapshot of post-election responses to the ongoing Healthcare Trends in 2017 survey sponsored by the Healthcare Intelligence Network.
"The change or replacement of Obamacare might affect us significantly, including changing our USA market priority over other markets," contributed one respondent.
"We don't know what ACA repeal implications will mean for us," offered another.
Other respondents identified "changes to our government structure and the unknown impact" as well as "lack of clarity post-election" as their most pressing concerns for the year ahead.
Given Trump's ambitious healthcare agenda, much is at stake for industry stakeholders. But is it possible for the incoming administration to unravel the ACA, when the public already has been exposed to many of its provisions? And if repeal is possible, how long might the process take?
Greg Mertz, managing director for Physician Strategies Group, LLC, advises healthcare organizations not to panic about the ACA's demise. "A 'repeal and replace' means that Trump admits Obamacare can't go away. Nothing will happen quickly, and whatever happens will be less dramatic than many expect," predicts Mertz, who points to Trump's lack of specifics as to what might replace Obamacare as further evidence.
"House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, has already put forward his plan for healthcare reform, so I would think his ideas will be a pivotal part of what eventually gets passed," continues Mertz. "However, Congress still decides what happens, so whatever Trump proposes will be mired in hearings, staff work, and debate for at least the next year. This means that we limp along with a broken program as we argue what is better."
Also based on Ryan's healthcare proposals, Travis Ansel, senior manager of strategic services for Healthcare Strategy Group, is advising providers to brace for more Health Savings Account (HSA)-related payment woes. "Ryan's plans for Medicare, which have loomed over the industry for five years, bring with them increased patient payment obligations," Ansel explains. "Expect more and more employer-based coverages to shift to HSAs as well. We can expect payors to raise insurance premiums across the board as the Republican-led Congress unwinds the ACA."
Ansel pointed out that major payors were forced to shift their business models and infrastructure to compete in an ACA-focused market. "The quick shift back will be a reality these payors are not prepared for and not prepared to succeed under," he concludes.
As payor margins suffer, adds Mertz, pressure will be placed on commercial insurers to raise reimbursement to offset the gap. "Employers will howl and the feds will be pressured to control costs, especially big pharma."
Where Mertz does expect activity is within the Health Insurance Exchanges created by the ACA. "The insurance exchanges are in trouble already, so we would expect that providers that were seeing significant numbers of exchange-insured individuals would have likely seen a drop in those numbers regardless. I think the number of uninsured will increase in the short-term, as many will decide that paying the penalty is better than paying the premium."
As to what healthcare might look like under the Trump administration, Mertz thinks the industry will see tax credits or vouchers. "However, I seriously doubt we'll see a government-sponsored alternative, which I think we would have seen with (the Democratic presidential nominee) former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton."
On the provider side, Mertz expects that while physicians will see little impact, hospitals will see a rise in charity care, and no major increase in income.
For a post-election roadmap to the challenges and opportunities facing healthcare in the year ahead under GOP leadership, don't miss Trends Shaping the Healthcare Industry in 2017: A Strategic Planning Session, a live webcast on Thursday, November 17 at 1:30 Eastern.