Keep health protections for Libby

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Libby asbestos victims got some welcome news earlier this month when it became known the proposed American Health Care Act — the Republicans’ repeal-and-replace bill for the Affordable Care Act — will preserve special provisions for the victims of asbestos exposure from the former W.R. Grace & Co. vermiculite mine in Libby.

We applaud Sen. Steve Daines for pushing congressional leaders to keep the medical-care benefits for asbestos patients that were put in effect in 2011 as part of the Affordable Care Act. Those special provisions provide ongoing screening and enable anyone diagnosed with asbestos disease linked to Libby to access Medicare. A third provision created a pilot program that provides medical and home care not covered by Medicare.

The Libby provisions, as they’re called, have benefited thousands of people. Since 2011, 4,500 new individuals have been screened for asbestos disease at the CARD clinic in Libby, and more than 2,000 were diagnosed with asbestos-related disease. A total of 1,846 asbestos victims under 65 have accessed Medicare and about 1,300 patients are using the pilot program.

It makes all the sense in the world to keep these special measures in place in any law that replaces the so-called Obamacare. But who knows what the outcome will be as the battle for a replacement bill heats up.

The American Health Care Act, or Trumpcare, has been criticized as a large tax cut for the wealthy, paid for largely with Medicaid cuts. There’s also the allegation that under Trumpcare, people in states that voted heavily for President Donald Trump could wind up paying way more for insurance. Others maintain more than 24 million Americans will lose their coverage under the bill as it’s currently proposed.

It’s possible that Trumpcare already is dead on arrival since many conservative Republicans oppose it, but we dearly hope the current proposal is at least a starting point for a better way to allow all Americans to affordably access health care. When all is said and done, the replacement for Obamacare also needs to retain the Libby provisions.

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