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PATERSON -- Lawmakers and medical professionals painted a grim picture for hospitals and the state of health care overall in N.J. if Obamacare is repealed and not replaced with an alternative plan. U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-9th Dist.), U.S. Rep. Frank...

Obamacare needs to be replaced if repealed, lawmakers, medical officials say

PATERSON -- Lawmakers and medical professionals painted a grim picture for hospitals and the state of health care overall in N.J. if Obamacare is repealed and not replaced with an alternative plan. U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-9th Dist.), U.S. Rep. Frank...

Obamacare needs to be replaced if repealed, lawmakers, medical officials say

PATERSON -- Lawmakers and medical professionals painted a grim picture for hospitals and the state of health care overall in N.J. if Obamacare is repealed and not replaced with an alternative plan.

U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-9th Dist.), U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-6th Dist.) and Kevin Slavin, president and CEO of St. Joseph's Regional Medical Center, discuss the ramifications of repealing without replacing the Affordable Care Act on Monday at St. Joseph's Regional Medical Center.Sara Jerde | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com 

The lawmakers and other professionals gathered at St. Joseph's Medical Center days before President-elect Donald Trump, who said on the campaign trail that his administration would "repeal and replace" the Affordable Care Act, takes office.

Republicans have vowed to follow suit in repealing the health care law, but few details have been released on what would replace the law.

Kevin Slavin, president and CEO of St. Joseph's Regional Medical Center, said that under Obamacare the conversations with patients have changed. Since more patients are insured, he said, the focus is now on encouraging people to receive more comprehensive care rather than to worry about what is or is not covered.

But those discussions might change if the roughly 800,00 residents who Elizabeth Ryan, president and CEO of the New Jersey Hospital Association, say rely on Obamacare or Medicaid for insurance, once again become uninsured.

"For us to think about moving our organization through another dramatic, sudden and rapid change and being able to stay solvent financially is agonizing," Slavin said.

Hospitals are a "perfect example" of how "chaos" would ensue if the law were repealed without being replaced and thousands in New Jersey are left without insurance and in need of so-called charity care, said U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-6th Dist.) on Monday.

"They're going to come back to the emergency rooms at St. Joseph's, the uncompensated care is going to go up, the state's not going to have the money to pay for it," Pallone said, adding the process "becomes like a death spiral."

"This idea of repeal and not replace and just delay is just absurd," Pallone said.

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Under Obamacare, more state residents became eligible for Medicaid, which Gov. Christie expanded under the healthcare law, but in return most hospitals lost millions in state aid.

If the system were to have a complete overhaul, and the state didn't increase the money set aside for charity care, it "could have a devastating impact on hospitals," Slavin said.

U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-9th Dist.) had his own critique of the healthcare law on Monday, including that he'd like to see a repeal of the "Cadillac tax," a tax penalty on employers who offer insurance plans deemed too expensive under the law.

Pascrell said he'd be willing to work with Republicans, though they don't seem interested in discussing the issue.

"These folks haven't come up with a replacement since 2009. What makes anyone think they're going to be able to do it now?" Pascrell asked.

As open enrollment date closes Jan. 31 nears, thousands of New Jerseyans have continued to sign up for Obamacare on healthcare.gov. U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwel visited the state last month to encourage people to sign up.

Burwell paid the visit along with U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D), who said Sunday that Republican lawmakers' efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act without a replacement were "reckless and dangerous." 

Sara Jerde may be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @SaraJerde.

 

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