Republicans, Democrats unveil starkly different health care bills

Updated September 13, 2017 - 7:19 pm

WASHINGTON — Republicans and Democrats unveiled starkly different health care reform bills Wednesday, underscoring the deep partisan divide on Capitol Hill that will likely keep both pieces of legislation from becoming law.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., rolled out his “Medicare-for-all” bill that would provide universal health care to everyone in the United States, a single-payer plan modeled after those in other advanced nations.

Republicans, after failing to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, also unveiled a last-ditch effort to cut future Medicaid spending and give federal funds to states in block grants to craft health care packages for individuals without government- or employer-sponsored plans.

“It takes us off the path to single-payer health care — which would be a disaster — and puts us on the path toward local control,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

The GOP plan was introduced by Graham, Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., and Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis.

The legislation’s architects said it is designed to repeal the ACA and replace it with a plan that keeps taxes on the wealthy but eliminates penalties for people who do not buy plans now.

Heller said that was advantageous to Nevada, where 80,000 people paid penalties instead of buying insurance. Nearly half of those, he said, made less than $50,000 a year.

The plan would also increase federal health care spending in Nevada by 30 percent through reductions in spending in other states.

But the plan has its critics. Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval and other governors are concerned about Medicaid cuts in the plan and shifting funding to the states. The proposal would end the Medicaid expansion that occurred under Obamacare.

Conservatives, like Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., oppose the plan because it leaves too much of the Obamacare law intact.

Acknowledging a need for momentum, Graham said there has been a lack of leadership on health care reform. He urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and President Donald Trump to pick up the phone and call governors and senators to build support behind the plan.

“If you believe repeal and replacing Obamacare is a good idea, this is your best chance,” Graham told a news conference.

Trump issued a statement from the White House later. “As I have continued to say, inaction is not an option, and I sincerely hope that Senators Graham and Cassidy have found a way to address the Obamacare crisis.”

Two previous GOP health care bills died in the Senate when McConnell was unable to muster the votes needed to pass the legislation. The GOP has until Sept. 30 to try to pass health care with a simple majority under budget reconciliation rules.

Democrats, meanwhile, have been cautious of the single-payer plan. Although more than a dozen senators have come out in support of Sanders’ bill, others want to preserve and fix the Obamacare system. Others worry that establishing a national system would lead to a tax hike and a loss of employer-sponsored plans.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., is listening to colleagues but has not endorsed any plan, said her spokesman, Rey Benitez.

A bipartisan approach to stabilize the insurance markets is underway in the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee under Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.

As the House and Senate turn toward tax reform, McConnell has told Graham, Cassidy and Heller to approach him when they have 50 votes.

Graham said the GOP group has a lot of “fight left.”

“This is the defining fight for the future of health care and the Republican Party,” he said.

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

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