Senate GOP Leaders Delay Vote on Health Reform Bill

TUESDAY, June 27, 2017 (HealthDay News) — Failing to win sufficient backing within their own Republican ranks, Senate GOP leaders on Tuesday postponed a vote on their plan to overhaul the Affordable Care Act.

Party leaders had hoped to bring the bill to the Senate floor for a vote this week, ahead of the July 4 recess. Instead, Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said discussions to settle differences among party members on both the left and right would continue.

“We’re still working toward getting at least 50 people in a comfortable place,” McConnell told reporters Tuesday afternoon. “We’re still optimistic that we’ll get there.”

The delay followed the release Monday of a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis that said the Senate bill would leave 22 million more Americans uninsured by 2026.

Soon after the report’s release, three Republican senators threatened to oppose a procedural vote, which had been expected Wednesday, to begin debate on the bill, the Associated Press reported.

Conservatives said the Senate bill did not do enough to roll back provisions of the Affordable Care Act, also know as Obamacare. Moderate Republicans said sections of the bill were too harsh, particularly proposed cuts to Medicaid, the government-run insurance program for lower-income Americans.

Moderates like Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said she would vote no. Among her concerns: the need for more money to combat the nation’s opioid epidemic and the proposed Medicaid reductions, The New York Times reported.

Conservative Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said he could not support the proposal as it now stands. And another conservative, Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), said he had “a hard time believing” he’d have enough information to back that motion this week, the AP reported.

Earlier Monday, Senate Republicans released an updated version of their bill that included a provision requiring people with a gap in health insurance to wait six months before new coverage would start. That so-called continuous coverage provision is meant to encourage more Americans to buy health insurance, and not wait to buy it until a medical need arises.

Senate Republicans crafted their bill behind closed doors, irking some Republicans as well as Democrats who got their first glimpse of the measure on June 22.

To move the Senate proposal ahead, 50 of the Senate’s 52 Republican members must vote in favor of the bill, with Vice President Mike Pence delivering the tie-breaking vote.

However, the fate of the measure — a years-long goal of Republicans — is now in doubt. McConnell has indicated he would continue negotiations to bump up the vote count.

“It’s going to be very close, but we’re working with each one of them in trying to accommodate their concerns without losing other support,” No. 2 Senate GOP leader John Cornyn of Texas said Monday. He added, “When senators tell me they want to get to yes, that means that we have a very good chance to get to yes,” the AP reported.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said, “This bill is every bit as mean as the House bill.”

As it is, the Senate bill would reduce the federal deficit by $321 billion over the next decade by cutting Medicaid spending and repealing or modifying taxes under the Affordable Care Act, the nonpartisan CBO said. The House bill unveiled last month shaved the federal deficit by $119 billion.

Average premiums would be about 20 percent higher in 2018 than under the Affordable Care Act, Monday’s CBO report said. That’s largely because the penalty for not having health insurance — the Affordable Care Act’s so-called individual mandate — would be eliminated.

However, by 2020, average premiums under the Senate proposal would be about 30 percent lower than under current law. One reason? Those plans would cover fewer benefits than under Obamacare.

The White House remained “very confident” about prospects for the Senate bill, spokesman Sean Spicer said ahead of the CBO report’s release. And President Donald Trump will “continue to listen to senators who have ideas about how to strengthen it,” he added.

According to the CBO report, the Senate bill would result in 49 million people lacking health coverage by 2026 — 22 million more than would have been uninsured under Obamacare.

That’s slightly better than the House GOP bill. An earlier CBO analysis said that measure would cause 23 million more Americans to lose health coverage by 2026.

However, more Americans would lose health insurance in the short run under the Senate bill as it stands: an estimated 15 million fewer Americans would have coverage in 2018, compared to 14 million under the House bill.

The Senate bill’s largest savings would come from reductions in spending for Medicaid, which would drop 26 percent over the next decade compared with current law, the CBO said.

A majority of Americans — 51 percent — now say they have a favorable view of the Affordable Care Act, according to the latest Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll. It’s the first time since the foundation began conducting the poll in 2010 — the year Obamacare was signed into law by then-President Barack Obama — that favorable sentiments have topped 50 percent.

More information

Visit the Congressional Budget Office for more on the analysis of the Senate’s health bill.

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