Senior Senate Republican Calls ACA Repeal Vote ‘Nearly Impossible’

  • S&P says proposal would hurt the economy and the health sector
  • Insurers decry ‘chaos’ under GOP plan, calling it unworkable

Protests Disrupt GOP's Effort to Repeal Obamacare

A key Senate Republican voiced doubt that the latest effort to repeal and replace Obamacare would succeed, as health-industry groups reiterated their opposition and a hearing on the bill was briefly halted by throngs of protesters.

“It’s nearly impossible. I’m not saying anything is impossible, because we could always maybe work it out in the end, but so far I haven’t seen any” indication that suggests that will happen, said Utah Republican Orrin Hatch, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

The panel was holding the only scheduled public hearing on the measure before a possible vote this week. In a hallway outside the hearing room, demonstrators jeered at lawmakers including South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham, one of the measure’s backers. 

The proceeding was temporarily put on hold because of the crowd and restarted a short time later after Capitol police removed a number of protesters, many of them in wheelchairs and chanting “no cuts to Medicaid! Save our liberty!”

The revised bill contains a few changes to try and woo holdout Republican senators, shifting money to a few states, such as Alaska. Yet its core is essentially the same. It takes Obamacare’s money spent on expanding coverage and turns it into grants to the states, and gives state governments broad new authority to set insurance regulations, potentially doing away with many of the Affordable Care Act’s protections for less healthy or older people.

“It basically makes the patient protections enacted into law by the Affordable Care Act discretionary on the part of each state,” Dick Woodruff, senior vice president of federal advocacy for the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network, told lawmakers at the hearing.

Industry Opposition

The show of opposition came amid continued criticism of the overhaul measure from inside the health industry. Insurers said that the bill’s passage could cause far-reaching upheaval for individual health plans and for Medicaid, the U.S. health insurance program for the poor.

The bill would also hurt the economy, according to S&P Global Ratings. The bill would cost about 580,000 jobs by 2027, according to the ratings agency, much of it in the health care sector. That would limit gross domestic product growth to about 2 percent a year over the next decade.

“If the federal government turns off the faucet, it’s not hard to imagine that business will dry up for a number of health care providers,” S&P said in the report, noting that the health sector is the largest employer in most states. “With less business, there would be less need to hire more workers -- or even keep the ones they’ve got.”

Graham was more sanguine about the prospects for the legislation that bears his name. 

“I’m optimistic,” he said in an interview ahead of the hearing. “It’s a transformative idea that gives the Republican Party something to be for.”

Unworkable Plan

Two top insurance-industry groups issued a joint statement earlier Monday warning of the potential for ‘chaos’ in insurance markets nationwide if the bill, co-sponsored by Louisiana Republican Bill Cassidy, becomes law.

The groups called the Graham-Cassidy plan unworkable, saying it’s unrealistic for states to take on broad responsibility for crafting their own health-coverage systems in the two-year period defined by the bill, according to a 10-page statement the groups released on Monday.

“This extremely short timeframe for implementation would likely lead to chaos in both the individual market and Medicaid programs in all states,” America’s Health Insurance Plans and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association said in a joint letter. “Already cash-strapped states would have to invest significant funds to even get basic functions running by Jan. 1, 2020. It is not clear that any state has the capability of doing so under these constraints.”

The insurers said that lawmakers should instead work to stabilize the individual health-insurance market, at least in the short term.

“This approach would help consumers obtain the coverage and care they need, while providing Congress and the states an opportunity to fully consider and debate longer-term reforms,” according to the letter.

Also on Monday, America’s Essential Hospitals, a hospital-industry trade group, called on senators to reject the bill, expressing “deep concerns about the plan and the process to consider it.”

— With assistance by Steven T. Dennis

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