U.S. News

Democrats use budget office report to attack GOP health bill

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah talk to a reporter as he steps onto the Capitol Subway on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats needle Republicans on Thursday with the gloomy assessment that 23 million people would lose insurance under the Republican health care bill, and that premiums for seriously ill people would rise. The leader of the Senate GOP effort to dismantle President Barack Obama’s health care law faulted Democrats for not working with them.

“The goal was to make sure we changed the laws in America so more Americans would have the protection of health insurance. Just the opposite occurs” under the GOP bill the House approved this month, said No. 2 Senate Democratic leader Richard Durbin of Illinois.

Durbin’s remarks came a day after the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projected that the House bill would result in 23 million additional people going without insurance in 2026, including 14 million next year. It also said the legislation would make coverage more costly, even unaffordable, for many people with costly medical problems. Senate Republicans are holding closed-door meetings in an effort to write their own legislation.

In remarks on the Senate floor, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., did not mention the budget office report. He said Obama’s law is “not going to just magically, magically somehow get better” and said Democrats were trying to “blame someone other than themselves for the failures of Obamacare” by not working with the GOP.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Democrats would work with Republicans “once they take repeal off the table,” a point he’s made before.

The House narrowly approved its measure with only Republican votes on May 4 after several embarrassing setbacks. Republican senators have said they’re moving in their own direction. They’ve discussed changing the House’s proposed Medicaid cuts and aiming health care tax credits more toward low earners, but they’ve reported little progress.

The report found that under the House measure, people in some regions with pre-existing medical conditions or the seriously ill “would ultimately be unable to purchase” robust coverage at premiums comparable to today’s prices, “if they could purchase at all.”

That was a knock on 11th-hour changes Republicans made in the bill to gain conservatives’ votes by letting states get waivers to boost premiums on the ill and reduce coverage requirements.

The budget office said older people with lower income would disproportionately lose coverage. Over half of those becoming uninsured, 14 million people, would come from the bill’s $834 billion in cuts over 10 years to Medicaid, which provides health coverage to poor and disabled people.

The analysis said the House bill would reduce federal deficits by $119 billion over the next decade. The previous version of the bill reduced shortfalls by $150 billion.

In a late compromise, House GOP conservatives and moderates struck a deal letting states get federal waivers to permit insurers to charge higher premiums to some people in poor health, and to ignore the standard set of benefits required by Obama’s statute.

CBO said states adopting those waivers could destabilize coverage for people with medical problems. The agency estimated that about one-sixth of the population – more than 50 million people – live in states that would make substantial changes under the waivers.

The budget office projected that premiums in those states would be lower for healthy people than under current law because their coverage would be narrower, but did not estimate an amount.

For ill people in those states, “it would become more difficult” for seriously ill people to buy insurance “because their premiums would continue to increase rapidly,” the report said.

Benefits likely to be excluded from required coverage in some states would include maternity, mental health and substance abuse services, the report said.

In states not getting waivers, where it estimated half the country lives, average premiums would be about 4 percent lower in 2026 than under Obama’s law, the report said. For the one-third of the nation in states modestly reducing coverage requirements, average premiums would be about 20 percent lower, the analysts estimated.

The budget office said average premiums in those states would go down because younger and healthier people would buy coverage and the policies would cover less.

The report said that under Obama’s law, the nation’s health insurance market is expected to remain “stable in most areas” because federal subsidies to millions of consumers largely rise with premiums. Citing markets where insurers have left or sought huge premium increases, Republicans have repeatedly said the statute must be dismantled because it is in a death spiral.

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