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House repeal of 'Obamacare' hands hot potato to wary Senate

Tester bashes GOP bill



Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Republicans are claiming a triumph by pushing their legislative centerpiece scuttling much of President Barack Obama’s health care law through the House.

It was a perilous journey, and its Senate pathway will be at least as bumpy with little doubt the measure will change, assuming it survives.

Thursday’s 217-213 House passage — with 20 GOP defections — was preceded by several near-death experiences for the legislation, even though repealing Obama’s statute helped guide Donald Trump’s presidential run and multitudes of GOP congressional campaigns.

And that was in a chamber Republicans control 238-193. Had just two additional Republicans voted “no,” the measure would have lost because bills need majorities to pass. Now, Republicans must try maneuvering the measure through a Senate terrain that is different politically and procedurally from the House.

“We must manage expectations and remain focused on the art of the doable as we move forward,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, among several cautionary statements issued by Senate Republicans after the House vote.

Montana’s Democratic Sen. Jon Tester was more direct.

“From Plentywood to Libby, I met face-to-face with Montanans who overwhelmingly said, ‘Don’t let Congress take away my health care.’ Yet here we are again, facing another irresponsible proposal that is worse than the last,” Tester said in a statement Thursday. “The House is forcing seniors to pay more, jeopardizing health care for Montana women, and failing to address the rising costs that are draining pocketbooks.  I call on people in Congress to get off their political soapboxes so we can work on real solutions that increase access and make health care more affordable.”

Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., had not issued a statement on the vote by printing deadline this morning.

Montana does not have a representative in the House, as the election to fill the seat vacated by Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke will not happen till May 25.

Rob Quist, Democratic candidate in the race, blasted the vote.

“The House of Representatives today passed a bill that would kick thousands of hardworking Montanans off of their health insurance and raise premiums by hundreds of dollars a month,” Quist said in a statement. “This bill ends protections for people with preexisting conditions and would force older Americans to pay even more. The list goes on.

“I oppose this bill because it would hurt the people of Montana and hardworking families across the state” Quist added. “No real Montanan would vote for it.”

Greg Gianforte, the Republican candidate, told Montana Public Public Radio he believes he will support the bill once he knows more about it.

“I wasn’t privy to all the dialog in D.C., but it sounds like they’ve got something done, I look forward to studying it,” Gianforte says in an interview that aired on Montana Public Radio Thursday. “I’ve been really clear that any repeal and replace had to do three things: get premiums down, protect people with pre-existing conditions and protect rural access for Montanans.”

Libertarian candidate Mark Wicks of Inverness did not make a statement on the vote, but his website says he believes the federal government has no constitutional authority to require people to buy health insurance. He would vote to roll back Obama’s health care reform, it says.

The House bill would end the Obama law’s fines on people who don’t purchase policies and erase its taxes on health industry businesses and higher-earning people. It would dilute Obama’s consumer-friendly insurance coverage requirements, like letting states permit insurers to charge higher premiums for customers with pre-existing medical conditions.

The measure would replace Obama’s federal subsidies for lower-income insurance buyers with tax credits geared to consumers’ ages. And it would cut Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor and disabled, including ending extra federal payments 31 states are accepting to expand Medicaid to cover more people.

The notoriously understated Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., lauded the House bill as “an important step” to erasing Obama’s law but left the door open to changes.

“Congress will continue to act on legislation to provide more choices and freedom in health care decisions,” McConnell said.

The House bill was written by Republicans representing districts often drawn to incorporate strong majorities of GOP voters. Senators represent entire states, and many tend to reflect more pragmatic views than their House colleagues.

Several come from northeastern and Midwestern states with large numbers of low-income people receiving Medicaid. Many of the 31 states that accepted Obama’s expansion of that program are led by GOP governors, and senators have no interest in cutting their states’ funds and taking coverage away from voters.

Republican senators also represent states ravaged by deaths caused by opioid abuse. The House measure would let states escape Obama’s requirement that insurers cover anti-drug services.

“I’ve already made clear that I don’t support the House bill as currently constructed,” said Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio.

He cited its Medicaid cuts, including for treating people with drug problems, and said he’d make sure that “those who are impacted by this epidemic can continue to receive treatment.”

In March, Portman joined three other GOP senators in opposing Medicaid cuts in an early version of the House legislation. In a letter to McConnell, they wrote that the measure “does not provide stability and certainty for individuals and families” who use the program.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said the House bill poses “more questions than answers about its consequences.” She said there should be “no barrier for coverage” for people with pre-existing medical conditions and that the House’s tax credits “do not adequately take into account income levels” or regional differences in health costs.

Collins and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, have opposed cutting federal money for Planned Parenthood. The House bill blocks federal payments for a year to the organization, which provides abortions but doesn’t use federal funds for them by law.

Other senators are also seeking changes. No. 3 Senate GOP leader John Thune of South Dakota is working on a plan to skew the bill’s tax subsidies more toward lower-income people.

States that did not expand Medicaid under Obama’s law are looking for additional funding for their programs. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., whose state did not enlarge Medicaid, said he would not back a health care bill “that rewards people for taking Medicaid expansion at the expense of those who did not.”


Havre Daily News staff contributed to this report.

Montana Public Radio interview of Gianforte, Quist comments on health reform vote: http://mtpr.org/post/gianforte-quist-weigh-healthcare-bill


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