Senate Republican leaders are facing pushback from almost every side on their Affordable Care Act repeal/replace proposal – so much so that the current plan is unlikely to gain enough support to pass.
“For a variety of reasons, we are not ready to vote for this bill, but we are open to negotiation and obtaining more information before it is brought to the floor,” Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) said in a joint statement issued June 22, the day the plan was published. “There are provisions in this draft that represent an improvement to our current health care system, but it does not appear this draft as written will accomplish the most important promise that we made to Americans to repeal Obamacare and lower their health care costs.”
With a 52-seat majority in the Senate, Republicans have little room for dissent in passing this part of their ACA repeal/replacement effort. They aim to employ the budget reconciliation process – which requires a simple majority for passage – to enact the current proposal, the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA). Losing just three members of their caucus could cause the effort to fail.
Like the House-passed American Health Care Act ( H.R. 1628 ), the proposed BCRA would reduce Medicaid spending and would address rising premiums in the individual health insurance marketplace; however, BCRA would take a slightly different path to the same destination.
Like the House bill, BCRA also targets funding for Planned Parenthood, although because of Senate procedural rules, it is a more indirect funding ban.
A key difference between BCRA and the House bill is how insurance premium support is calculated. The AHCA would base tax credits on age, providing a lesser benefit for older, but pre–Medicare-age adults. In contrast, BCRA would base tax credits on income while limiting eligibility to households at 350% of the federal poverty line. Further, credits would cover only 58% of the actuarial value of health insurance under BCRA.
The draft Senate plan would not allow states to request a waiver from the ACA’s so-called community waiver provisions – the portion of the law that requires health insurance premiums to be the same regardless of age or preexisting condition; the House-passed AHCA would allow those waivers.
Medicaid expansion would be rolled back under the Senate plan, but at a slower pace than the AHCA would require – by 2023 under BCRA vs. 2020 under AHCA.
The BCRA would establish a per capita funding mechanism for Medicaid going forward, which would base funding on historic Medicaid expenditures and uses an economic index to track inflation and adjust payments accordingly.
To address the needs of people with greater health care needs, the Senate proposal would provide $57 billion over the first 4 years, then another $57 billion over the next 8. The funds would be available for programs such as premium support or high-risk pools to help individuals who are expected to be high users of health care. States would be required to match funds starting in 2022.
Experts were quick to weigh in on the Senate plan.
The BCRA needs to do three things, according to Grace-Marie Turner , president of the Galen Institute: Provide a safety net for those covered through the ACA so that they do not lose coverage in the transition, modernize Medicaid, and give states more authority and options to reform their own health insurance markets.
“We have learned that the federal government is not able to regulate something as local as health insurance,” Ms. Turner said. “They cannot create policies and legislation that works for people in downtown Manhattan and rural Montana and southern New Mexico and the panhandle of Florida. There are too many different populations. The states need to do that, and this bill also would give the states more authority to begin to oversee their health insurance markets but with new funding to provide extra help for the people who have difficulty buying progress.”
She said it could be much better if the Senate did not use the reconciliation process, “but within the confines of that, both the House and Senate bills do the same thing.”
Ms. Turner also stressed that there are more reforms coming later, as the Senate and House address other portions of ACA repeal/replacement.
“I hope that [senators] would see moving this forward as beneficial so that then they can move additional pieces of legislation, hopefully, with 60 votes to go through the regular process, to have additional follow-up bills. This is not the end of the story. This is just rescuing us from Obamacare,” she said. “Then we need to go forward and think about what do we need to do to make our health sector work better in the future by putting doctors and patients, rather than government, in charge of choices.”
Doctors, however, did not agree.
“This bill significantly decreases patients’ ability to access high-quality health care, and affordable coverage for millions of Americans will be in jeopardy if the legislation is passed,” Boyd Buser, MD, a doctor of osteopathy and president of the American Osteopathic Association, said in a statement.
He noted that the Medicaid cuts will have a “devastating impact, especially in areas of our country hardest hit by the ongoing opioid epidemic. … The Senate bill should have prioritized prevention and care coordination, two measures proven to reduce overall health costs by eliminating waste and addressing health problems at the most treatable stage. Decreasing the number of Americans with coverage as it intends does will not lower costs.”
A vote on the proposal could come as early as June 29 before the Senate breaks for the 4th of July recess.
Republican lawmakers and the Trump administration have vowed to address the ACA in other ways as well, by reviewing and possibly changing all relevant regulations, then using the regular legislative process, which would need 60 votes, to address issues that cannot be handled by the budget reconciliation process.