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Heller, Sandoval join ranks of Republicans opposing GOP health care bill

Updated March 17, 2017 - 7:15 pm

WASHINGTON — Republican Sen. Dean Heller and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval said Friday they won’t support the House health care bill.

Heller reportedly joined a handful of Republican senators in announcing opposition to the beleaguered legislation. That leaves Senate GOP leaders at least two votes shy of what they’d need to pass the plan.

Meanwhile, Sandoval and three other GOP governors told congressional leaders that they opposed the proposal in its present form because it takes away flexibility and shifts costs to the states.

The Republican governors have met previously with President Donald Trump and House and Senate leaders in an attempt to formulate legislation that preserves federal funding for Medicaid expansion in their states.

And they said they were encouraged by Trump’s joint speech to Congress where he assured that the GOP replacement to the Affordable Care Act would provide “governors the resources and flexibility they need with Medicaid to make sure no one is left out.”

But Sandoval, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, all Republicans who expanded Medicaid in their states, said the House replacement bill wending its way through Congress does none of that.

“It provides no new flexibility for states, does not ensure the resources necessary to make sure no one is left out, and shifts significant new costs to states,” the governors said in a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

The letter, dated March 16, was obtained Friday as Trump announced his 100 percent support for the bill, which has fractured the Republican caucus. Democrats in both chambers are united in their opposition to the replacement legislation.

‘A GREAT PLAN’

Despite efforts by Ryan to tamp down opposition to the bill in his party, Trump said the health care proposal is in “great shape.”

“It’s a great plan. The press doesn’t give it a fair read, but I’ve heard that before. What are you going to do — the fake news,” Trump said. “But it’s a great plan or I wouldn’t be involved with it.”

Trump made the comments after meeting with conservative House GOP lawmakers who have opposed the replacement bill because it leaves too much of the ACA, known as Obamacare, intact.

Ryan acknowledged Republican opposition to the bill this week, but he said the plan, which emerged from two House committees, is the best chance that the Republican-led Congress has to repeal and replace Obamacare.

The bill, which could receive a full House vote next week, faces even more challenges in the Senate, where Republican senators who represent broader constituencies than GOP House members with smaller districts have voiced concern.

“I agree with Governor Sandoval. I do not support the House bill in its current form,” Heller said in a statement to the Associated Press in Carson City.

Heller joined three fellow GOP senators in opposing the bill: Susan Collins of Maine, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah. Republican Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Ted Cruz of Texas also have voiced strong objections.

Republicans have a 52-48 Senate majority.

Several conservative Republicans have said they do not support the House plan because it leaves intact too many regulations that were included in the Obamacare legislation.

Moderates have balked at measures to block funding to Planned Parenthood, and cuts in federal support for Medicaid expansion in states, which would wind down in 2020.

House conservatives with the Republican Study Committee want to ratchet down on Medicaid sooner, curtailing funds to states in 2018 and requiring Medicaid recipients to seek work to be eligible for subsidies.

THE ‘AGE TAX’

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., said a new analysis by the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, of which she is a member, showed that the Republican replacement bill, the American Health Care Act, would allow insurance companies to charge older Americans five times more than younger adults.

Current law caps the increase at 3-1.

Cortez Masto said the “age tax” in the Republican plan would raise premiums in Nevada by $1,772 a year for a 60-year-old.

The analysis also showed that Medicaid spending would be reduced by $880 billion, and make Medicaid eligibility more difficult through a number of rule changes.

Kasich met with Trump at the White House earlier this month to urge the administration to seek modifications to Medicaid changes in the House bill.

Sandoval, the National Governors Association vice chairman, also met with administration officials and Republican leaders in Washington, warning that changes in Medicaid funding would have an adverse impact on states.

Nevada is one of 31 states that expanded Medicaid under Obamacare. About 300,000 people were insured under the expansion.

In their letter to Ryan and McConnell, Sandoval and the GOP governors said “we support fundamental reform of the Medicaid entitlement.”

But they said they wanted to see reform that does not penalize expansion and non-expansion states.

“Additionally, we believe Congress should focus first on stabilizing the private insurance market, where the greatest disruption from Obamacare has occurred,” the governors wrote.

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

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