Backlash throws last-ditch Obamacare repeal effort into doubt – Politico
Republicans hoping to jam a last-minute Obamacare repeal plan through the Senate are confronting a rising tide of opposition as health care groups, patient advocates and even some red-state governors join forces against a bill they worry would upend the nation’s health care system.
The wide-ranging backlash threw the GOP’s repeal push into fresh doubt on Tuesday, even as White House officials and Senate Republican leaders insist they are on the verge of winning the 50 votes needed to dismantle Obamacare under a reconciliation bill that expires in two weeks.
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Opponents of the proposal co-authored by Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina seized on its plan to overhaul Obamacare’s subsidized insurance and Medicaid expansion and replace those with block grants to the states — a mass restructuring they warned would sow chaos in insurance markets. They panned its new regulatory flexibilities as a backdoor route to undermining key patient protections — including safeguards for those with pre-existing conditions.
And in the biggest blow, several Republican governors urged the GOP to abandon a plan that would force states to swallow potentially billions in funding cuts — and instead to focus on stabilizing Obamacare.
“The Graham-Cassidy bill is not a solution that works for Maryland,” said Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, one of the half-dozen GOP governors to come out against the bill so far. “We need common-sense, bipartisan solutions that will stabilize markets and actually expand affordable coverage.”
The criticism from Republican governors adds another complication to an already fraught process for Senate Republicans facing a tight deadline to repeal Obamacare. GOP leaders — once skeptical of the Graham-Cassidy plan’s chances — are now all in on a bid to speed it through the Senate.
In a clear bid to boost the bill’s prospects Tuesday, House Speaker Paul Ryan and the White House came out in opposition to a bipartisan plan to stabilize Obamacare being written by Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash). The intention was to put pressure on Republican senators to back the last-ditch effort to gut Obamacare.
Alexander later announced he’d abandoned work on that effort after failing to find consensus. He has said he’d “like to” be able to support Graham-Cassidy and is still reviewing the bill.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also backed the approach Tuesday, although he declined to commit to bring it to the floor.
“We’re in the process of discussing all of this,” McConnell said. “Everybody knows that the opportunity expires at the end of the month.”
All of which has amped up the pressure on GOP lawmakers who are eager to fulfill their seven-year repeal vow but who remain puzzled about what the bill would actually mean for their home states — especially since the Congressional Budget Office said it will not have details about the practical implications of the bill, including how many people could lose coverage and the impact on insurance premiums, “for at least several weeks.”
“The kind of status quo on money, or more money to states and more control to states — that’s very appealing, very simple,” said Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan, who added that he’s still poring over the bill’s effects. “What I’m very focused on as we speak is figuring out the dollar amounts, frankly, and the formula and how it impacts my state.”
Cassidy — the chief architect of the bill’s proposal to take Obamacare’s federal funding and redistribute it to states in equal amounts — has spent the past several days reassuring senators that their states wouldn’t see major funding cuts under the block grant plan.
But that rosy view has met with increasingly harsh pushback from policy analysts, industry groups and state officials — including some in the Louisiana Republican’s own state.
“The legislation you’ve introduced this past week gravely threatens health care access and coverage for our state and its people,” Louisiana Health Secretary Rebekah Gee wrote in a letter to Cassidy, estimating that the bill’s block grant system would slash $3.2 billion in health funding for the state over a decade.
That figure tracks with early estimates published by the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, showing that only 15 states would end up better off financially under Graham-Cassidy compared with the current law — while those that have been most successful at enrolling residents in coverage would face tens of billions in cuts.