The Power of Resistance

S. E. Williams

Senate Cancels Vote on Health Care Bill—at Least, for the Moment

Tuesday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was forced to pull the Senate version of the Obamacare repeal and delay a vote before the legislature breaks for the 4th of July holiday. 

McConnell had publicly promised a vote on the healthcare bill before the break. However, after protests by Democrats on the Hill, plus an avalanche of protests, telephone calls, emails, and petitions from the general public, and a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) score that showed passage of the Better Care Reconciliation Act would leave almost as many people without health care coverage as the American Health Care Act passed by the House last month, at least nine Senate Republicans ran away from the legislation and with no support from Democrats. McConnell had little choice but to delay the vote. 

The Senate’s Better Care Reconciliation Act would result in the loss of health care coverage for at least 22 million people, compared to 23 million people projected to lose health care coverage under the House’s American Health Care Act passed by the House of Representatives in May. 

Even before the CBO score heightened concerns over the legislation, some Republican lawmakers worried that the bill might add to the problem of healthy people not signing up for insurance and, as a result, drive up health care costs for everyone else. 

In an NBC Today Show interview, Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), a “no” vote on the bill said, "If you can get insurance after you get sick, you will, and without the individual mandate, that sort of adverse selection, the death spiral, the elevated premiums, all of that's going on gets worse under this bill." 

The “death spiral” is what happens when healthy people drop out of the health insurance market because premium costs rise, resulting in costs rising even more. The Affordable Care Act attempted to address and resolve this issue with the individual mandate—a component of the bill Republicans are determined to eliminate. 

The House bill’s solution to is to charge a premium for those who do not maintain continuous coverage. The Senate’s objective, McConnell explained, was to, “Free Americans from Obamacare’s mandate so Americans are no longer forced to buy insurance they don’t need or can’t afford.” 

The nonprofit Urban Institute reported if the bill does not include a provision to keep healthy Americans in the health insurance market, insurance companies will push hard to offer bare-bone polices that leave the insured with inadequate coverage – a situation that could be worse than it was before the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. 

In addition, Senate leadership faces a plethora of other problems that require resolution to secure the votes needed to pass the legislation, including calls by some Republicans for more money to fight the opioid epidemic, calls by other Republicans to eliminate more insurance regulations, and demands by still other Republicans to restore money to Planned Parenthood.

–Kamala Harris, California State Senator

Despite these challenges and the leadership’s failure to secure the votes needed to pass the legislation this week, McConnell is determined to press on. “We’re going to continue the discussions within our conference on the differences that we have that we’re continuing to try to litigate. Consequently, we will not be voting on the bill this week,” he said. “But, we’re still working toward getting at least 50 people in a comfortable place.” 

At least five Republican senators said they would oppose a motion barring changes to the bill. To many, it appears as though the Republicans lost this battle—the quest for Obama Care repeal continues in the Senate, just as it did before the House was able to successfully pass its repeal. House leadership had a few false starts before the American Health Care Act passed in May and celebrated with a beer summit at the White House, only to have the president undermine the legislation by calling it “mean.” 

On Monday, in the wake of the CBO score, California Senator Kamala Harris stressed, “We should make it easier for Americans to increase access to quality, affordable health care, not make it harder. This report confirms what we already know—the Republican bill kicks millions of Americans off their health insurance in order to provide the wealthiest in America with a tax cut.” 

She further highlighted that, under the Senate plan, costs will go up for middle class families and care will be in jeopardy for millions of seniors, women, children, and those with preexisting conditions. 

“The priorities of this bill are backwards,” Harris stated. “It cuts $772 billion from Medicaid programs that help seniors pay for nursing home care, that support children with special needs, and that allow Americans to access opioid treatment. It causes millions of Americans with insurance coverage through their employer to lose coverage.” 

Harris further criticized the legislation for making premiums go up an average of 20 percent next year, while also giving tax breaks to insurance companies and the top one percent. “This proposal is downright immoral. We must reject this bill and pursue meaningful, bipartisan improvements to our health care system for all the American people,” she argued. 

In a recent comment on the Senate’s healthcare bill, California Governor Jerry Brown said, “Trumpcare 2.0 has the same stench, and effect, as the bill House Republicans and the White House slapped together last month. Millions will lose health care coverage, while millionaires profit. The American people deserve better.”

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