A hastily written health bill — with deep cuts to Medicaid and major hits to patient regulatory protections — ran into the same political problems as bills before it, and failed to garner enough support in the Senate.
Republicans announced Tuesday the party does not have the votes to pass their latest health care bill, known as the Graham-Cassidy bill, and will forgo a vote this week. Instead they will move on to tax reform, reaching for at least one legislative win before midterm elections. Efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) are not dead, but a “matter of when,” Republicans promised.
“We are going to fulfill our promise,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) during a press conference Tuesday. “Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson will be the alternative to Obamacare.”
At the end of the press conference, a reporter asked if GOP lawmakers had any plan to stabilize the ACA in the meantime; the next open enrollment period is slated to begin November 1. The question went unanswered.
The news came after Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) announced Monday that she will vote against the latest ACA-repeal bill, making her the third Republican to definitively oppose the bill.
Republicans in Congress were attempting to pass the latest repeal-and-replace bill through the reconciliation process, meaning it needed only a simple majority to pass the Senate. In order to have at least 50 votes, Republicans could safely lose just two members. Prior to Collins’ announcement, Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and John McCain (R-AZ) had already said they would vote against the bill.
The Graham-Cassidy bill — the fifth GOP health bill seeking to replace Obamacare — would have repealed the ACA subsidies and Medicaid expansion, then replaced previous federal funding with block grants. States — with waiver authority — could roll back essential health benefits and allow insurers to raise premiums for sick patients or those with pre-existing conditions. Additionally, the bill would make cuts to Medicaid overall, which provides care to low-income adults, children, elderly, and people with disabilities.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated millions more people would be uninsured under the Graham-Cassidy bill than under current law. Additionally, the CBO projected that federal spending on Medicaid would be reduced by about $1 trillion between 2017-2026.
But Monday’s score did not provide a comprehensive analysis because the nonpartisan government did not have enough time to review the bill. The legislative text was released just two weeks ago, leaving little time for thorough analysis from agencies and lawmakers. There was just one hearing on the legislation Monday afternoon, which was largely overtaken by protests.
The reconciliation deadline is September 30. In order to pass this version of repeal and replace through the reconciliation process, it needed to pass the Senate before Saturday.
Republicans can still bring back ACA repeal next year. Already, lawmakers are contemplating combining health with tax reform, a move that’s not impossible from a procedural perspective. What is clear, Republican voters overwhelmingly want lawmakers to repeal current health law.