Republicans Abandon Health Reform Bill

News Picture: Republicans Abandon Health Reform BillBy Karen Pallarito
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Sept. 26, 2017 (HealthDay News) -- The Republican Party's seven-year push to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act was derailed again Tuesday when Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pulled the plug on the latest version of a bill designed to dismantle the controversial health law.

"Well, to be clear, through events that are under our control and not under our control, we don't have the votes," Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy, a co-sponsor of the bill, said during an afternoon briefing on Capitol Hill.

Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the GOP would now focus on reforming the U.S. tax code.

However, McConnell and the health bill's sponsors insisted that the Republican party hasn't given up on reforming health care.

"It's not if, it's only a matter of when," said Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, another co-sponsor of the latest bill. "With a process that gives more attention and time, we will repeal Obamacare with a block grant called Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson."

Tuesday's admittance of defeat came just one day after Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said she opposed the latest version of the bill.

Collins announced her decision shortly after the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projected the bill would cut Medicaid benefits by $1 trillion through 2026.

"Health care is a deeply personal, complex issue that affects every single one of us and one-sixth of the American economy," Collins said Monday in a statement. "Sweeping reforms to our health care system and to Medicaid can't be done well in a compressed time frame, especially when the actual bill is a moving target."

"Today, we find out that there is now a fourth version of the Graham-Cassidy proposal, which is as deeply flawed as the previous iterations," Collins added. "The fact that a new version of this bill was released the very week we are supposed to vote compounds the problem."

On Sunday, Senate GOP leaders added language to the bill that would have shifted money to states such as Alaska and Maine in an apparent attempt to sway Republican holdouts, including Collins.

A summary of the revised version also projected increases in federal Medicaid funding for Arizona and Maine, compared with prior estimates.

Those changes came in the wake of Arizona's Sen. John McCain's announcement on Friday that he could not support the bill, which would turn money from the Affordable Care Act into a state block-grant program.

McCain joined Kentucky's Sen. Rand Paul, who opposed the bill because it did not fully repeal Obamacare.

Republicans were facing a Sept. 30 deadline to be able to pass a repeal bill by a simple majority. That chance has been lost following Tuesday's developments.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) was one of the key holdouts, as was Ted Cruz of Texas.

President Donald Trump amped up pressure Sunday on reluctant Republican senators, calling Alaska, Arizona, Maine and Kentucky "big winners" under the now-scuttled GOP plan.

"7 years of Repeal & Replace and some Senators are not there," he tweeted, alluding to the party's repeated promises to repeal the Affordable Care Act since its 2010 enactment.

The revised bill would have given states more decision-making authority on how to allocate health care dollars.

It also included new language addressing concerns about how Americans with pre-existing conditions would fare. It indicated that states "shall maintain access to adequate and affordable health insurance coverage for individuals with pre-existing conditions."

However, opponents of the measure -- including major insurance organizations, health provider groups and consumer advocates -- said the proposed legislation would have gutted Medicaid, the government-run insurance program for the poor, and it threatened key consumer protections.

"I think ultimately the flexibility that's being offered to states here is the flexibility to make politically painful choices about what to cut, where to cut, who to cut, and how deeply," said Sabrina Corlette, a research professor at the Georgetown University Center on Health Insurance Reforms.

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SOURCES: Sept. 26 media briefing, Washington, D.C.; Sept. 22, 2017, media teleconference with Sabrina Corlette, research professor, Georgetown University Center on Health Insurance Reforms; Sept. 24, 2017, Twitter, @realDonaldTrump; Sept. 18, 2017, blog, Congressional Budget Office; Office of Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.); Office of Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine); Congressional Budget Office

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