Group of GOP senators plan last effort to replace Obamacare

Updated September 12, 2017 - 7:22 pm

WASHINGTON — A group of Republican senators will roll out a plan to replace the Affordable Care Act on Wednesday as the GOP makes a last-ditch effort to reform the nation’s health care system.

Democrats, too, are lining up behind a single-payer plan to be introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., which would create a “Medicare for all” type system modeled after the systems in other industrial countries.

Both proposals face long odds in the Senate, where lawmakers grinded to a halt in August on various plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., will lead a group of fellow Republicans — Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Dean Heller of Nevada and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin — in unveiling a plan that would provide federal money to states to allow them to create their own health care plans.

“It will take the decision-making and the money out of Washington and bring it back to the states,” said Heller, discussing portions of his plan during a Senate Finance Committee hearing.

The group, joined by former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., met with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., about their plans to rush the bill through committee and to the floor before the end of the month.

The 23-page bill will be sent to the Congressional Budget Office to be analyzed and to determine its cost and its impact on the national debt.

The legislation attempts to level spending among states, neither punishing those that expanded Medicaid under Obamacare, or those that did not. It would do so by giving states money in the form of block grants instead of the federal funding states get under Obamacare

Governors voice concern

But a group of bipartisan governors that includes Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval have voiced concerns that the bill would continue to scale back federal funds for Medicaid, which could force states to pick up a larger financial burden to provide coverage to the most vulnerable populations.

Heller told the committee he is worried that insurance carriers would pull out of states and public exchanges. There were 14 of 17 Nevada counties set to be without a public insurance provider until Sandoval’s office was able to convince an insurance company to step in.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has said he will oppose the bill because it retains too many of the Obamacare taxes that many conservatives want eliminated.

Paul sits on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which will have jurisdiction over the legislation as it moves toward a Senate vote.

Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., has urged a more bipartisan approach to reforming the health care system to avoid partisan overhauls with each change of presidential administrations.

Alexander’s committee will have say over whether the Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson bill gets to the floor.

Cassidy, a member of the committee, told colleagues during a hearing Tuesday that his plan was designed to allow states flexibility in providing coverage for populations, regardless of politics or whether they expanded Medicaid under Obamacare.

“We want to be bipartisan and allow a blue state and deep red state to come up with solutions,” Cassidy said.

Single-payer approach

Meanwhile, Sanders also is expected to introduce his bill Wednesday. Several lawmakers have lined up to support the single-payer approach.

However, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., declined to support the bill, saying she continues to fight to preserve Obamacare and fix portions of the law that are in need of repair.

But Sanders has a growing number of supporters, including several eyeing a possible 2020 presidential run as Democrats.

Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., called the Sanders bill “a litmus test for the liberal left.”

How quickly the Senate could take up health care again is unclear. The Senate is taking up the annual defense bill this week, and McConnell wants to begin debating tax reform this month.

On health care, McConnell has told members of his Republican caucus not to come forward with a bill unless they have the 50 votes needed to pass it under special rules.

GOP leadership was embarrassed last month when several attempts to repeal and replace Obamacare died for lack of support.

President Donald Trump has chastised the Republican leaders for failing to pass a repeal bill after seven years of promising to do so.

Contact Gary Martin at 202-662-7390 or Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.

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