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The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, is surrounded by reporters on Capitol Hill on Thursday after a revised version of its health care bill was released. She is one of three Republican senators opposed to the measure.

Friday, July 14, 2017 1:00 am

Senate's new health bill can't shake GOP critics

Washington Post

WASHINGTON – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., released a new proposal to overhaul the Affordable Care Act on Thursday after spending three weeks reworking it to win over wavering lawmakers on the right and in the center.

But within hours, it was clear that Senate leaders still didn't have the votes to fulfill their long-standing quest to replace former President Barack Obama's 2010 health care law.

The new draft would lift many of the ACA's tight regulatory requirements, allowing insurers to offer bare-bones policies without coverage for such services as preventive or mental health care. It would also direct billions of dollars to help lower- and middle-income Americans buy plans on the private market.

However, the draft leaves in place proposed deep cuts to Medicaid – and at least three Republicans quickly stated that they remain opposed, casting doubt on McConnell's plans to pass the bill next week.

“This is not what the American people expect of us, and it's not what they deserve,” said Sen. John McCain,, R-Ariz., one of the three senators who said they oppose McConnell's new bill.

The GOP's continuing push – and continuing struggle – to make good on a campaign promise they began invoking seven years ago to “repeal and replace” Obamacare reflected the peril Republicans face whether they pass a bill or not.

On the one hand, the ACA has provided medical coverage for millions of Americans – and has grown more popular as a result. Moderate Republicans remained concerned Thursday that the new proposal would make insurance unaffordable for some middle-income Americans and throw millions off the rolls of Medicaid, public insurance for disabled and low-income Americans.

Yet conservatives continued to push for a more wholesale rollback of the Affordable Care Act – highlighting the danger for all Republicans of failing to achieve a promise most of them made on the campaign trail.

“The new Senate health care bill is substantially different from the version released last month, and it is unclear to me whether it has improved,” said Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, a conservative who has pushed for a full Obamacare repeal.

McConnell's new draft was the result of weeks of negotiations with both conservatives and moderates. For those on the right, the plan incorporated a proposal from Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, allowing insurers to offer minimalist policies so long as they also offer more comprehensive ones as well. Cruz said the provision would give consumers greater choice and lower-cost premiums.

For those in the center, the new proposal would spend an additional $70 billion offsetting consumers' costs – and $45 billion to treat opioid addiction. Republicans financed these changes by keeping a trio of Obamacare taxes targeting high earners. Lawmakers such as Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said repealing those taxes would give too much relief to the wealthy at the expense of the poor.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who said the measure still does not do enough to unravel the law known as Obamacare, remained opposed to voting on the bill, as did two centrists, Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and McCain.

Even as McConnell negotiated with individual members, the outlook for the bill was complicated when Sens. Bill Cassidy, R-La., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., debuted an alternative proposal. In a joint interview with CNN on Thursday, Cassidy and Graham said they would take the billions of dollars the federal government now receives in taxes under the ACA and direct that revenue to the states.

The plan did not appear to be gaining traction – Graham himself said he would vote to start debate on McConnell's bill – but its introduction underscored the extent to which a growing number of GOP senators have started looking beyond the current effort with diminishing confidence that it will prevail.

“I don't see this as the end if this bill were not to pass,” said Collins. “I see it as the beginning of the kind of process that I would have liked to have seen in the first place.”