Senate Republicans unsure what their healthcare bill would do, even as they push ahead on it – Los Angeles Times
Senate Republicans are poised to take an unprecedented leap into the dark as they prepare to vote on legislation that would affect health protections for tens of millions Americans yet has been subject to virtually no analysis or public scrutiny.
The proposal goes far beyond previous bills to repeal the 2010 healthcare law, often called Obamacare, and would fundamentally restructure the nation’s half-century-old healthcare safety net.
With a vote expected as soon as Wednesday, according to the White House, and backers still talking about potentially major changes, the legislation will get its first and only congressional hearing Monday afternoon. The independent Congressional Budget Office, which lawmakers rely on to assess major legislation, already has said it won’t have time to analyze the bill’s effect on health coverage and insurance premiums.
“This is like legislating blind,” said University of North Carolina political scientist Jonathan Oberlander, who has written extensively on the history of major healthcare legislation.“It is really hard to find an example of something where Congress was this reckless.”
On Sunday, several key Republican senators expressed strong doubts about the bill, which appears to remain at least a vote or two short of what GOP leaders need for passage. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said in an interview on CNN that “it’s very difficult for me to envision a scenario where I would end up voting for this bill.” Sen. John McCain of Arizona previously said he would oppose the bill, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska has said she remains undecided.
On the right, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who has previously said several times that he opposes the bill, kept up his criticism in interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” And Sen. Ted Cruz, speaking in his home state of Texas, said that “right now they don’t have my vote.” Cruz said he did not think Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) was supporting the bill either.
With 52 Republicans in the Senate and no Democrats supporting the repeal effort, sponsors of the bill, including Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.), can afford to lose only two GOP votes.
Faced with the resistance within his own caucus, Cassidy suggested Sunday that he plans to introduce a new version Monday.
Graham and Cassidy have insisted their proposal would protect Americans’ access to healthcare while making coverage more affordable.
“President Trump has said he will not sign a bill which does not protect those with preexisting conditions,” Cassidy said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” “I’m a physician who worked in a public hospital for 25 years caring for those with preexisting conditions.”
But the key language in the bill that Cassidy points to as guaranteeing coverage has never been defined or tested, leading to widespread doubts that it would actually do what he says. Cassidy’s claims have been disputed by independent analyses of his proposal, which have concluded that major funding cuts and loosened insurance regulations in the bill will likely erode coverage for many vulnerable Americans.
Leading patient advocates — including the American Heart Assn., the American Diabetes Assn., the March of Dimes and the advocacy arm of the American Cancer Society — have issued similar warnings, based on their assessment of the GOP proposal.
Over the weekend, an unusual consortium of groups representing physicians, hospitals and health insurers issued a joint statement strongly condemning the legislation.
“The bill will cause patients to lose important protections as well as undermine safeguards for those with pre-existing conditions,” the groups said, warning additionally that hundreds of billions of dollars in Medicaid funding cuts mean “millions of patients will lose their coverage and go without much-needed care.”
“Healthcare is too important to get wrong,” concluded the groups, which included the American Medical Assn., the American Hospital Assn. and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Assn. “Let’s take the time to get it right.”
Under normal circumstances, Congress takes years to develop complex legislation that involves large sums of money and affects millions of Americans.
Similarly, bills creating the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which President Clinton signed in 1997, and the Medicare Part D prescription drug program, which President George W. Bush signed in 2003, underwent years of committee hearings and study.