New bill gives states more autonomy over health care funding, slashes Medicaid funding
THIS year, congressional Republicans have been looking to act on its years-long party pledge of repealing the Affordable Healthcare Act (aka Obamacare) by implementing the party’s own health care bill.
In March, the House proposed the American Health Care Act (AHCA), which would have repealed major parts of Obamacare and would have left 23 million Americans uninsured, failed to garner majority support and was viewed as too restricting.
Republicans then amended the AHCA and reintroduced it in June as the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017. In July, the Senate rejected the bill, along with its scaled-back “skinny repeal” version.
Despite failure to garner support for each incarnation of the bill, Republicans are not giving up just yet.
The latest edition of the GOP health bill comes from Republican senators Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Dean Heller (R-N.V.) and Ron Johnson (R-W.I.) who on Wednesday, September 13, released a new draft that is looking for a vote within the next two weeks.
The bill, which has been nicknamed “Graham-Cassidy,” would repeal “the structure and architecture of Obamacare and replaces it with a block grant given annually to states,” according to a statement released by Graham.
That essentially means that states are given more control over the allocation of funds to “best take care of the unique health care needs of the patients in each state.”
It would also eliminate Obamacare’s individual insurance mandate and drastically scale back its expansion on Medicaid.
Graham-Cassidy represents a last minute effort to propose a GOP answer to Obamacare as the party’s power to pass a health care bill through a party-line vote expires on September 30.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, along with fellow congressional GOP leaders, haven’t made a decision on the bill, but he indicated that if the bill gains the support of 50 of the 52 Republican senators, he will bring the bill to the floor for consideration.
The announcement comes just days after Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and 16 Senate Democrats introduced a Medicare for All bill that proposes to expand the federal government’s role in the American health care system, as the Asian Journal previously reported.
Obamacare advocates acknowledged the program’s pitfalls but spoke of its potential if given the chance to refine the current system.
The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), the nation’s largest nonpartisan organization for Americans 50 and older, criticized Graham-Cassidy for eliminating tax credits that help all consumers, especially older ones, afford insurance premiums.
Nearly 6.1 million Americans aged 50-64 get their coverage through states’ health insurance exchanges, and 3.2 million of those consumers are now eligible receive tax credits for health insurance coverage, which reduce premium and out-of-pocket expenses.
The AARP released a statement on Tuesday, September 19, that said that Graham-Cassidy would “undermine the consumer protections which millions of Americans have benefitted from and rely on today,” also denouncing its proposal to cut Medicaid, which covers more than 17.4 million Americans.
According to the AARP’s Public Policy Institute, Graham-Cassidy would slash between $1.2 trillion and $3.2 trillion in Medicaid spending over the next two decades, which could force states to cut back on home and community-based services or reduce eligibility for coverage.
“Changing Medicaid into a per capita cap financing or block grant structure would endanger the health, safety, and care of millions of individuals who depend on the essential services provided through Medicaid,” the AARP said. “We urge to vote NO on [Graham-Cassidy] and instead ask the Senate to continue its work through the bipartisan market stabilization efforts.”
Before the election, Americans were almost evenly divided on the ACA — 46 percent approved of the ACA while 51 percent disapproved, according to an October 2016 poll from Pew Research.
However, according to an ABC/Washington Post poll released in 2017, 61 percent of Americans said they’d prefer if lawmakers kept Obamacare intact and work on improving the program. Moreover, 79 percent said that President Donald Trump — who has made it a priority to repeal and replace Obamacare — should try to make Obamacare work instead of letting it fail.
Anthony Wright, executive director of consumer health advocacy coalition Health Access, said that improving the current healthcare system offers a host of benefits for different communities, including immigrants and lower-income families that depend on programs like Medicaid, which was expanded in 2016 through Obamacare.
“We’re not looking just to maintain [Obamacare], but to make improvements,” Wright said in a press call in August. “We need improvements in the way of extended care to immigrant children, approval to extend Medicaid to young adults regardless of citizenship status, getting better transparency over prescription drug process…if we could maintain that, and not have these egregious cuts, we can focus on steps moving forward and ways to improve on the current system.”