Pressure builds as US Senate debates health care

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — As U.S. Senate Republicans continue to discuss how to replace former President Barack Obama’s health care law, national and state groups are pushing lawmakers to oppose a legislative overhaul.

Those efforts are also happening in West Virginia, where groups and campaigns are encouraging the public to contact Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., regarding a possible health care plan.

Little is known about the proposal, as discussions have happened behind closed doors. Negotiations began shortly after the House of Representatives passed the American Health Care Act in May. Senators set a deadline of June 30, the Friday before the Independence Day recess.

The House passed the legislation May 4 in a 217-213 vote. All three of West Virginia’s representatives — David McKinley, Alex Mooney and Evan Jenkins — voted for the “Obamacare” replacement.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, 51 million Americans would be uninsured by 2026, 23 million more than if the current health care system remained in place. The federal deficit would decrease by $119 billion.

The CBO also said by 2020, one-sixth of the population would reside in areas in which nongroup insurance markets would be unstable.

The New York Times published research June 14 indicating there is no state in which a majority of residents support the legislation.

The Associated Press reported President Donald Trump — who held a celebratory press conference when the American Health Care Act was passed — told Republican senators June 13 the House legislation was “mean, mean, mean.”

Save My Care, a health care advocacy group, launched radio and television campaigns last week targeting four Republican senators, including Capito, it deemed as “a deciding vote” on a health care bill if it is put forward.

“(Capito will) decide whether costs go up by thousands of dollars, whether you’re one of 120,000 West Virginians who will lose coverage altogether,” the radio voice-over said. “Capito will decide whether your rural hospital can keep its doors open, whether Medicaid is gutted, whether you or your loved one will lose access to opioid abuse treatment.”

The other senators the campaign addresses are Susan Collins of Maine, Dean Heller of Nevada and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

The Community Catalyst Action Fund, which focuses on protecting consumers in regards to health care, announced Sunday a seven-figure multi-platform campaign aimed at Capito, Heller, Murkowski and Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona. The group also released national radio and television advertisements.

Capito said during a May appearance of MetroNews “Talkline” the American Health Care Act is too drastic when it comes to rolling back Medicaid expansion.

U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.

More than 170,000 West Virginians gained coverage after the program’s expansion. According to the American Hospital Association, more than 68,000 West Virginians on Medicaid would lose their coverage by 2018, and 126,000 would not have coverage by 2026 if the House Republican health care plan went into effect.

She also raised concerns regarding pre-existing conditions, in which people would be placed in high-risk insurance pools.

“Senator Capito is listening to West Virginians and appreciates their feedback,” a Capito spokesperson said. “She has repeatedly said that any legislation that the Senate considers must provide affordable access to health care for West Virginians, including those who currently receive coverage through the Medicaid expansion.”

But the pressure is not just through advertisements; Rise Up West Virginia, an organization launched after the 2016 presidential election, launched its “Medicare for All” initiative Wednesday at an event in Charleston.

“The Medicare program in this country works for our seniors,” said event organizer Cathy Kunkel. “It’s simple, easy to administer, less expensive and could just be expanded to cover everyone.”

Organization members handed out fliers reading, “Tell Sen. Capito: Don’t Take Away Our Health Care!” A number for Capito’s Washington office was also listed.

Kunkel said while “Obamacare” is not perfect, she feels the House plan coupled with the Senate’s addressing of the issue is not a good sign.

“It’s hard for the average citizen to know what is going on,” she said.

Composite Transport Technologies CEO and board chairman Allan Tweddle participated in the event. Born and raised in Toronto, Tweddle said he saw the benefits of the Canadian universal health care system.

“Their health care costs less than half than ours with equal or better results,” he said. “It’s ludicrous that this country is clinging to the system we have. It makes us uncompetitive in the world market.”

Tweddle added Senate Republicans should be ashamed for not pushing better legislation.

“They’re going to take health care from millions of people just so they can increase the profits of insurance companies,” he said. “How can they look at their family in their face? How can they look anybody in the face doing that? It’s absolutely disgusting as far as I’m concerned.”

Republican senators have the majority in the Senate with 52 seats. No more than two senators could vote against the health care plan if all Democrat and independent senators voted against. Vice President Mike Pence would be the tie-breaking vote if needed.

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