MARIETTA, GEORGIA — With one day until the much anticipated special election in Georgia’s sixth district, the Republican Party is secretly working on its landmark health care bill that will reshape the future of health insurance in the United States. But Republican candidate Karen Handel would prefer not to talk about it.
In an interview with Breitbart News on Monday, Handel claimed that voters in the Atlanta suburbs do not care about health insurance.
“It hasn’t been that much of an issue on the ground,” she said. “For voters in the sixth district, the biggest issue is that Jon Ossoff is from outside the district.”
A recent Atlanta Journal Constitution poll found that more than 80 percent of likely voters in Georgia’s sixth district said health care is an “extremely important” or “very important” issue, and just one in four said they approve of the plan Republicans rammed through the House last month.
Handel has said she would have voted for that plan, but she and other GOP leaders are not eager to discuss their support. At a campaign stop in Johns Creek, Georgia Monday morning, Handel avoided talking to reporters altogether. Meanwhile, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who was campaigning for the former Georgia secretary of state, quickly rushed away from the event and into his car when ThinkProgress tried to ask him about the massively unpopular Affordable Health Care Act.
McCarthy said he would discuss the bill at Handel’s next event, but he did not attend.
When Handel finally addressed health care at a lunchtime campaign stop in Marietta, Georgia, she said she is confident the Senate GOP will provide the American people with “transparency” before they push for a vote on their Obamacare replacement.
“What I know is that the Senate will have transparency as they go forward,” she told ThinkProgress.
Senate Republicans have said they will try to hold a vote on the bill before the July 4 recess, leaving little time to read the bill, much less for meaningful discussion or debate.
The CBO issued a report last month on the House’s version of the bill, finding that it would leave roughly 23 million people without health insurance. In the weeks since, popular opinion about the legislation has plummeted, making it the most unpopular major law in recent decades.
Senate Republicans have been attempting to hide from both the press and the public to avoid discussing their proposal. One Senate Republican aide said last week that the decision to release their version of the bill at the last minute is an intentional move to avoid scrutiny.
On Monday, Handel seemed to adopt the same strategy. Speaking to reporters briefly about the issue, she acknowledged that the House bill is “not perfect,” but still said she would have supported it if she were in Congress.
“I’ve been very clear from the start that the House bill was not perfect, but in order for us to move forward, we needed to have a bill on the table to begin to work with,” she told ThinkProgress.
She continued by citing the common Republican talking point that Obamacare is failing and that the GOP needs to do whatever it takes to push through their own bill.
“I know people talk about, what if the exchanges collapse,” she said. “Well folks, Obamacare is collapsing. I know because my husband and I get our insurance off of the exchanges and our premiums have gone from about $350 a month to $1200 a month. So the status quo was unacceptable.”
Handel also talked specifically about reductions to Medicaid — the House version of the AHCA would cut $834 billion from Medicaid over the next decade.
“What I support is moving Medicaid to block grants so that the states can drive that process,” she said. “I have much greater faith in the governor and the state legislature to craft a Medicaid system that is going to be the best fit for the people of Georgia, rather than someone in Washington dictating it.”
A number of Democrats in the sixth district told ThinkProgress this week that it’s unacceptable that the Senate GOP is working in secret to draft such an important bill. But Handel supporters said Monday they are not concerned.
Jamshaid Bhatti, a 28-year-old Marietta resident, said he trusts Republicans and Trump to come up with a solution to decrease health care costs. He said he thinks working in secrecy will help the GOP accomplish its goals.
“That’s a pretty good move because we want them to be surprised,” he said about Senate Democrats. “I do trust my representation.”
And Carrie Almond, the president of the National Federation of Republican Women who came to the sixth district from Alexandria, Virginia to support Handel, said GOP leaders know what they’re doing.
“I don’t really think it’s a secret process when you have a task force that you put together,” she said. “They need time to put things together and I’m sure when they’re ready, they’ll let us all know what they’ve put together.”
“They’ve spent a lot of time working on it in the past and I think they’re going to reveal it at the right time,” she added. “There will be appropriate due diligence.”