WASHINGTON – The Senate Finance Committee was interrupted by protesters today as lawmakers considered the latest GOP effort to repeal and replace Obamacare, the Graham-Cassidy draft that is likely dead as a fourth GOP senator announced opposition to the bill.
“If the hearing is going to devolve into a sideshow or a forum for simply putting partisan points on the board, there’s absolutely no reason for us to be here,” committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said at the start of the nearly five-and-a-half hour debate, after suspending the discussion for 15 minutes while demonstrators, including many disabled, were removed.
The bill, introduced by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.), is similar to the original GOP repeal in that it pools Obamacare subsidies for private insurance and Medicaid expansions and passes that money onto states in the form of block grants. Graham and Cassidy have said that the bill will allow states greater flexibility to cover the cost of high-risk patients and assist with cost-sharing and premiums, among other reforms. The proposal was recently tweaked to deliver more perks to states – including Alaska, Arizona, Kentucky and Maine – led by senators who have voiced opposition to the bill.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) on Monday announced that she will not be supporting the measure, joining three other Republicans in opposition and likely killing any potential for repeal.
“Sweeping reforms to our healthcare system and to Medicaid can’t be done well in a compressed time frame, especially when the actual bill is a moving target,” she said in a statement. “(The bill would) open the door for states to weaken protections for people with pre-existing conditions, such as asthma, cancer, heart disease, arthritis and diabetes.”
Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) remain opposed to Graham-Cassidy, while Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) has been on the fence. The GOP, which holds 52 seats, needs 50 votes to pass the measure.
Republicans are using budget reconciliation as their vehicle for the repeal and replace, but only have until the end of the month to push it through. McCain has spoken against going outside the normal process of hearings and passage out of the health committee.
Hatch at the end of the Finance hearing said that the Affordable Care Act is “anything but affordable, and everyone knows it.” He later told reporters that passing repeal-and-replace is “nearly impossible,” though there’s a slim possibility of working “it out in the end,” according to Bloomberg News.
“Nobody has to buy a lemon just because it’s the last car on the lot. This Trumpcare bill is a healthcare lemon, a disaster in the making,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said during the hearing, calling the latest iteration of a nightmare for tens of millions of Americans and a mockery of President Obama’s promise for better healthcare at lower costs.
Graham during his testimony called Obamacare a disaster for South Carolina, noting that in 2014 the state had five insurers but now residents only have one choice. A 31 percent increase for premiums was announced on Friday. Graham also claimed that by 2042, the entire federal revenue stream will be consumed by Medicare and Medicaid spending unless something is done.
“If someone doesn’t fix Obamacare soon, the majority of counties in this country are going to be down to one provider. It is collapsing as I speak,” he said.
Cassidy apologized for the process in which they are trying to pass the measure, as he would have “preferred hearings, a markup, a Democratic co-sponsor,” but he argued that this is the only means by which he can try to help his constituents. Without approval for a subsidy in Louisiana, he said, people cannot afford the high premiums of Obamacare. He described how one constituent is paying $39,000 a year for his family.
“If there is one thing we can agree on a bipartisan basis, it’s that Obamacare is failing,” he said.
Dennis G. Smith, senior adviser for Medicaid and Health Care Reform in Arkansas’ Department of Human Services, spoke in support of Graham-Cassidy.
“This is a vehicle that states will be able to readily adapt to, will be ready to put into place and will continue the tradition of this committee in extending coverage to the most vulnerable Americans,” he said.
Teresa Miller, acting secretary for Pennsylvania’s Department of Human Services, condemned the latest Republican measure for its “staggering,” “draconian” spending cuts and the loss of insurance for millions pitched under the “guise of state flexibility.” She asked for a full, bipartisan approval process to address the ACA.