WASHINGTON — U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal said Wednesday he is “deeply concerned” Senate Republicans will rush ahead next week with legislation replacing the Affordable Care Act with an alternative plan that will do far greater harm to the nation’s health care system than earlier GOP proposals.
“President Trump said the original House version was ‘mean’ but this measure is the king of mean — on a scale of 1 to 10 it is off the charts,” the Connecticut Democrat said.
Blumenthal says the latest proposal crafted by Republican Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana would ravage Medicaid, remove protections for pre-existing conditions and revive life-time caps on insurance payments. In Connecticut, where Medicaid was expanded under Obamacare, the state would face a $4 billion cut in federal funding.
“We are going to use every tactic and tool provided by the process to block this measure because it would be so devastating for so many Americans,” he said.
Senate Democrats are working at a fevered pitch to raise grassroots opposition to the Republican plan as they did when the GOP last tried to repeal former President Barack Obama’s signature health law. Blumenthal and Senator Chris Murphy spoke against the Republican plan in the Senate earlier this week. They have also turned to social media to message against the proposal that Republican leaders are hoping to bring to a vote next week.
Murphy has scheduled appearances across Connecticut on Thursday at health centers and hospitals to speak out against the Republican bill that he says one study estimates could cut federal health care spending in Connecticut by $15 billion from 2020 to 2027.
“There have been some really, really mean health care proposals. Graham-Cassidy is the meanest version of Trumpcare yet,” Murphy said. “We don’t have a CBO [Congressional Budget Office] analysis of how many million people are going to lose access to health care, but let me guarantee you it will be in the millions — likely in the tens of millions. The bill radically, radically trims the amount of money that states will get in order to insure the population that has been insured by the Affordable Care Act.”
Representatives Rosa DeLauro, John Larson, Joe Courtney, Elizabeth Esty, and Jim Himes are also opposed to the Senate plan.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell plans to bring the bill to a vote next week under Senate rules that allow for passage by a simple majority. With no Democrat expected to support it, McConnell can afford to lose no more than two Republicans. After September, the rules would require a 60-vote majority.
Earlier this summer, a so-called “skinny repeal” of Obamacare failed when three Republicans opposed it — Lisa Murkowski, Sue Collins, and John McCain. They have not yet said how they plan to vote on the latest version.
McConnell lauded the Graham-Cassidy bill saying it would move the nation beyond the failures of Obamacare and empower states to set their own course for health reform.
“Governors and state legislators of both parties would have both the opportunity and the responsibility to help make quality and affordable healthcare available to their citizens in a way that works for their own particular states. It’s an intriguing idea and one that has a great deal of support,” McConnell said.
The proposal, however, has its critics.
The American Medical Association issued a statement urging the Senate to reject the proposal, saying it would jeopardize health insurance coverage for tens of millions of Americans.
“We believe the Graham-Cassidy Amendment would result in millions of Americans losing their health insurance coverage, destabilize health insurance markets, and decrease access to affordable coverage and care,” said the advocacy group for doctors.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies also spoke out against the proposal even as they acknowledge the current market is not working.
“Although we support providing states with greater flexibility in shaping health care options for their residents, we share the significant concerns of many health care organizations about the proposed Graham-Cassidy bill. The bill contains provisions that would allow states to waive key consumer protections, as well as undermine safeguards for those with pre-existing medical conditions. The legislation reduces funding for many states significantly and would increase uncertainty in the marketplace, making coverage more expensive and jeopardizing Americans’ choice of health plans,” they wrote.
Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has also issued a statement in opposition.
“Republicans in Congress are committing political malpractice by even considering voting on a bill that will impact one-sixth of the national economy without fully understanding its effects on the American people,” Malloy said. “What we do know is that Graham-Cassidy appears to be the worst attempt yet to sabotage the American healthcare system.”
McConnell suggested earlier this week that Republicans renewed their push for a repeal of Obamacare, in part, because Democrats were flocking toward a plan proposed by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders to establish a “single-payer” health system through Medicare.
“This is a massive expansion of a failed idea, not a serious solution, but Democrats are coalescing around it anyway. You can be sure they’ll do everything in their power to impose it on our country. But we don’t have to accept it as our future,” McConnell said.
Blumenthal dismissed the argument as “an absurd excuse” to rush through a proposal without the proper vetting of public hearings and committee reviews. Instead, he suggested that Republicans have concocted a “repeal mantra” aimed appeasing “right-wing ideologues.”
“It is completely misguided — politically and morally,” he said.
Patricia Baker, president and CEO of the Connecticut Health Foundation, says the proposal would reverse major gains Connecticut has made in reducing the uninsured rate and would threaten critical protections people with private coverage now count on. Connecticut would be hit especially hard by the funding cuts in the proposal, according to multiple analyses, leaving the state with substantially less money to provide health care coverage to low-income children and adults and people with disabilities.
“Although proponents have described Graham-Cassidy as a way to give flexibility to states, the reduction in federal health care funding means Connecticut would be left with few choices except what to cut — whether to cut people off Medicaid, pay doctors and hospitals less for treating patients, or cut back the care people in the program can receive,” she said.
Baker issued a statement offering more details for Connecticut:
“Connecticut currently covers more than 200,000 low-income adults without minor children through the HUSKY D Medicaid program. The federal government pays 95 percent of the cost of their coverage. These adults were ineligible for Medicaid before the Affordable Care Act. Separately, approximately 72,000 Connecticut residents who purchase their own insurance receive federal tax credits that discount the cost of their premiums.
“Under the Graham-Cassidy proposal, this funding would be dramatically reduced and potentially eliminated after 2026. Multiple analyses indicate that Connecticut would see steep cuts.
“According to an analysis by the consulting firm Manatt Health, Connecticut would, in 2026, face a 47-percent cut in federal funding for HUSKY D and individual-market premium assistance compared to current law. (Under current law, the federal government would provide $2.8 billion for coverage of these Connecticut residents in 2026. Under the proposal, that would drop to $1.49 billion.)
“A separate analysis by the consulting firm Avalere projects that Connecticut would see a $10 billion reduction in federal funding from 2020 to 2026, a 16-percent cut. This takes into account both funding for HUSKY D and the individual-market subsidies, as well as funding for the rest of the Medicaid program.
“These estimates vary in part because they cover different years and types of spending, and in part because the proposal contains uncertainties about how money would be allocated,” Baker noted.
While passage of Graham-Cassidy remains uncertain, Murphy says he is concerned the effort has already crushed bipartisan efforts to stabilize health marketplaces and fix other problems with Obamacare. During a Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing on Tuesday he criticized Republicans for abandoning the work they began several weeks earlier.
“I took it on faith that this committee was truly dedicated to a bipartisan committee process that was real. I spent the last two weeks working hard to study up for our hearings with experts and governors and insurance commissioners,” Murphy said. “I don’t know whether you can fix the Senate if this process that we were all asked to take part in breaks down and a partisan bill comes before the Senate next week. I hope that everyone on the committee will do whatever’s possible to stop that from happening.”