The Trump Administration and Republican leaders in Congress have named the Affordable Care Act (ACA) repeal and replacement as one of their top priorities for 2017.  Although the proposed American Health Care Act (AHCA) was initially pulled, it has now passed in the House and is being considered by the Senate. This is a time of uncertainty when it comes to cancer care coverage.

I had the opportunity to speak at the Association of Community Cancer Centers (ACCC) Cancerscape Meeting in Washington, D.C. this past March.  My topic was: “The ACA: What’s Staying, What’s Going & What about those State Exchanges.”  I was on a panel to represent the patient viewpoint.  This was the most fluid topic I have ever been challenged to discuss.  As we were preparing our presentation, the AHCA was up for vote and was voted down; Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House, said that was it… Obamacare was the law of the land. Then, the morning of my presentation, lawmakers were debating the matter again.

For those of us who are involved in healthcare, we have some idea of what these changes mean.  Can you imagine being a cancer patient, or their caregiver, during this turbulent time? Almost every day, news programs discuss the ACA, the AHCA, and healthcare.  There is much uncertainty for our patients.  They hear things on the news, on social media, or from friends, and they often do not know if this information pertains to the proposed AHCA or the current ACA.  I generally spend some time with patients dispelling rumors and finding the truths about the coverage they have now, or the coverage they are looking to add.

Here are some practical strategies financial navigators can use to help ensure that our patients maintain adequate coverage during this time of upheaval:

  1. Keep up with all the political changes.  To do this, watch your hospital’s advocacy and policy department.  Watch list serves for national and state groups that are healthcare-affiliated, such as the American Hospital Association (AHA), the Association of Community Cancer Centers (ACCC), and any other group that advocates for healthcare.  These departments and groups all have people trained to dissect and decipher bills as to what is going to affect our facilities and our 0020 patients the most.

  2. Stay on top of the news.  It is important to know what our patients are hearing out there.  The news sources can be biased, but we do need to keep up with everything our patient hear.  As you stay on top of the news, make sure you are looking at both sides, and try to stay away from news that is too biased.  I have found that if they provide a visual, such as a chart that compares the ACA to the AHCA, that they are providing facts and not opinion, so it is not as biased as some opinion based news stories can be.

  3. Watch Social Media.  I know this seems like an odd piece of advice as above I told you to look at the facts. However, according to the Pew Research Center, the majority of U.S. adults are now getting news on social media. Thus, some patients may be basing their understanding of the state of healthcare on stories their friends or family shared on Facebook, Twitter, or other platforms. In order to help them find the facts, we need to understand what they are reacting to.

  4. ​Be an expert.  In my position as an oncology financial navigator we are all Certified Application Counselors (CAC) through the healthcare marketplace, since we do consider insurance optimization as a part of the navigation process.  In doing so, we are invited to weekly webinars and newsletters to keep up on the current ACA. This provides access to fact sheets and other answers to my questions about the ACA.  It allows me to stay up to date on what is available to our patients.  With the House passing the AHCA, we now need to pay attention to the changes that will occur with our Medicaid if the AHCA passes in the Senate.

  5. Learn how healthcare legislation may affect financial navigation tools. At this point, financial navigators have many tools available to help patients, including co-pay assistance, premium assistance, replacement medications, prescription drug assistance, and other resources.  As a navigator during these uncertain times, we must learn how these tools might be affected by any changes in healthcare.

  6. Advocate for your patients. While I was in Washington D.C. in March, I also had the opportunity to visit my state senator’s and representative’s offices.  I met with very receptive staff.  As I talked with them, I found that they were particularly intrigued by stories of how the ACA had helped our patients (their constituents). They were also open to hearing what we wanted them to consider as they looked further at the ACA and AHCA.

Clara N. Lambert is an oncology financial navigator for the Cowell Family Cancer Center in Traverse City, Michigan and a a member of ACCC Financial Advocacy Network (FAN) Advisory Committee