Groups push back against new ‘Obamacare’ repeal effort

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — As Republicans in the U.S. Senate work on passing its latest effort to repeal former President Barack Obama’s health care law, four West Virginia health care advocacy groups are asking lawmakers — specifically Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va. — to vote against the legislation.

The bill, introduced by Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, would replace “Obamacare” with annual block grants for states to encourage the creation of health care programs. States would also have the ability to waive regulations under the current law, though pre-existing medical conditions would remain covered.

The individual and employer mandates would also be repealed.

The bill can be passed by Sept. 30 with 51 votes, which could mean 50 senators and Vice President Mike Pence. After that date, it will require 60 members to vote for a related bill. There are only 52 Republican senators in the Senate.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said Sept. 15 he would not support the bill, calling it “Obamacare Lite” on Twitter.

Sean O’Leary, the interim executive director of the West Virginia Center for Budget & Policy, said lawmakers are rushing to pass the bill because of the deadline.

“They don’t want us to understand this bill,” he said.

Avalere Health, a consulting firm based out of Washington, D.C., reported Wednesday if the bill were to pass, federal funding to states would decrease by $489 billion between 2020 and 2027. Thirty-nine states would see their funding decrease, including West Virginia, where funding would shrink by $3 billion.

In addition, the distribution of funding would be based on a state’s share of the population with incomes from 50 to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, which the report stated was “a range that excludes a significant proportion of people who qualified for exchange premium tax credits and cost-sharing reductions.”

West Virginians for Affordable Health Care President Perry Bryant said if the bill passes, West Virginians will have declining purchasing power because of less funding.

“At a minimum, 200,000 West Virginians — more than 10 percent of the state’s population — will not have access to health insurance they previously had,” he said.

The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources tweeted Monday 168,049 residents are enrolled insurance as part of Medicaid expansion.

The representatives are also looking to apply pressure to Capito, who voted in July for the “skinny repeal” of “Obamacare.” The earlier legislation included $45 billion for treating opioid addiction, which is not included in the current bill.

Stephen Smith, executive director of West Virginia Healthy Kids & Families Coalition, said Capito has previously said she would not pass a bill that hurt people, referencing a statement she made after voting against repealing “Obamacare” before the “skinny repeal.”

“We have seen her over and over again vote against bills that weren’t this bad,” he said. “We need here to vote against this one as well.”

Smith added under the Graham-Cassidy legislation, the state would be stripped of money that otherwise would be used for needed services.

“The question our senators have to ask themselves is is our health care system so perfect that we have $3 billion to cut, and if so, who should those $3 billion be cut from,” he said. “We think the answer is obvious that if anything, our state and our people deserve better coverage and better care.”

Delegate Barbara Evans Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, who served in the House of Delegates with Capito, said she believes Capito was honest when she said she did not want to hurt others.

“This bill is going to hurt a lot of specific people in our state,” she said.

Fleischauer also serves on the board of West Virginians for Affordable Health Care.

Capito’s spokesperson Ashley Berrang told The New York Times that Capito is still reviewing the proposal. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., told the newspaper he is against the legislation, adding “the numbers do not work at all for West Virginia.”

Manchin voted against the “skinny repeal.”

The U.S. Senate will not resume session until Monday because of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year. A spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said they hope to vote on the legislation sometime next week.

The U.S. Congressional Budget Office said Monday it hoped to have a preliminary assessment on the bill by early next week. The report will not include point estimates of the effects of the deficit, insurance coverage or premiums.

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