Opposition to ‘Obamacare’ replacement bill builds as vote looms

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — With a vote on the U.S. Senate’s bill to repeal and replace the current health care law set for this week, the legislation’s opponents are working to pressure senators to vote against the bill, including West Virginia’s Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.

Around 40 protesters gathered outside of Capito’s Charleston office Sunday afternoon to voice their opposition to the measure directed at former President Barack Obama’s health care law.

The latest “Obamacare” proposal — led by Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana — includes block grants to allow states to create their own insurance marketplaces as well as the end of Medicaid expansion by 2020. States would also have the opportunity to waive certain provisions of the existing health care law.

According to a report from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, the initial Graham-Cassidy bill would result in West Virginia losing more than $1.6 billion in federal funds between 2020 and 2026 because of the switch to block grants and a Medicaid per capita spending cap.

The Center for American Progress, a liberal public policy organization, said 32 million Americans would lose insurance coverage by 2027. West Virginia would see a decline of 156,000 people.

Capito has not stated a position on the bill.

“She continues to evaluate the Graham-Cassidy proposal to determine its impact on West Virginians,” spokesperson Ashley Berrang said in an email.

The Senate has until September 30 to pass the bill only needing a simple 51 vote majority. Republicans, who hold 52 seats in the chamber, can afford two votes and still pass the bill given a vote by Vice President Mike Pence. After September 30, a change will require a 60-vote majority.

West Virginians for Affordable Health Care President Perry Bryant said the Republican Party has made a mistake by trying multiple times this year to repeal and replace “Obamacare.”

“They never talked about what the ‘replace’ was,” he said. “When they finally started putting together a ‘replace,’ it became really difficult and they put together bills that were very far to the right and didn’t have the support of the American people.”

Bryant stated was out there was to encourage Capito to be against the bill.

“We’ve seen other senators come out. (Arizona Sen.) John McCain, for example, saying we should be doing this in a bipartisan manner with regular order. That’s something I agree with completely.”

The Senate has tried twice this year to change the country’s health care law. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Capito opposed the first bill in June, which would have begun phasing out Medicaid expansion in 2021. Manchin voted against the Senate’s “skinny repeal” in July, with Capito voting in favor.

McCain and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., have come out against the legislation and Maine Sen. Susan Collins said she is leaning toward voting against the bill. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, noted he and Utah Sen. Mike Lee have not committed to voting for the bill yet. Republicans are working on winning the support of Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, who voted against the “skinny repeal” with Collins and McCain.

Senate Republicans updated the legislation Sunday evening with increased federal funding for Arizona, Kentucky and Alaska.

Manchin said in a lengthy statement he would not vote for the legislation because of its possible damaging effects.

“Graham-Cassidy is not the solution we need and it is a bad deal for West Virginians,” he said.

“It will leave West Virginia with significantly fewer resources to provide health coverage for both our most vulnerable citizens and our middle class families. Under the new formula, our state will get penalized for expanding Medicaid and will have to pay more just to keep the coverage we have today.”

Manchin said during an appearance in South Charleston last month he had been invited to bipartisan discussions regarding health care. Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., had planned hearings for earlier in September regarding the creation of a bipartisan bill to improve the current health care system.

“I think we’ve proven that healthcare reform needs to be done on a bipartisan basis and I still believe that Republicans should take repeal off of the table and sit down with us to address the challenges our healthcare system is facing,” he noted in his recent statement.

Kelly Allen, a board member of Planned Parenthood Votes South Atlantic, said she felt the Alexander-Murray talks sounded “promising” when they were announced.

“I do think that the Affordable Care Act isn’t perfect and while we need to acknowledge the 200,000 people that have coverage that didn’t in West Virginia, some people have not benefited by ‘Obamacare,'” she said. “I hope the bipartisan commission could keep the strong parts of ‘Obamacare’ and look to make some improvements.”

Some constituents said during Sunday’s rally they had issues last week getting in touch with Capito’s offices via telephone; calls made to her four state offices went to voicemail with callers unable to leave any comments.

“The mailbox is full, and there is not enough space to leave a message,” a recorded voice said.

The Charleston and Beckley offices share the same telephone number.

If one called the Washington, D.C., office, they were sent directly to voicemail though with the ability to leave a message.

Stephen Smith, executive director of West Virginia Healthy Kids & Families Coalition, said he called Capito’s Charleston office four times Friday without once talking to someone.

“We believe the senator when she says she didn’t go to Washington to hurt people,” Smith said over email. “That’s what scares us about the lack of response from her office: thousands of West Virginians are calling to tell her that Cassidy Graham is gonna hurt.”

Smith referenced a statement made by Capito after a July vote to repeal “Obamacare.”

A Capito spokesperson said their offices have been receiving a high number of calls, and if anyone wanted to leave a comment for the senator could do so using an online form on the senator’s website.

Capito is not only facing pressure from constituents, but other organizations as well. Advocacy group Save My Care launched a television advertisement last week aimed at urging people to call Capito’s office and urge her to vote against the bill.

In terms of national opposition, six health care organizations issued a statement Saturday stating their opposition to the measure, noting the cuts to Medicaid and lack of guarantee for protecting certain conditions.

“While we sometimes disagree on important issues in health care, we are in total agreement that Americans deserve a stable healthcare market that provides access to high-quality care
and affordable coverage for all,” they stated.

Other groups — including the American Lung Association, AARP and the National Association of Medicaid Directors — have come out against the proposal

Governors have also gotten involved in this health care debate. John Kasich of Ohio, John Hickenlooper of Colorado, John Bel Edwards of Louisiana and Brian Sandoval of Nevada were part of a letter from 10 governors voicing opposition to the bill. Doug Ducey of Arizona and Matt Bevin of Kentucky are some of the governors standing by the bill.

Gov. Jim Justice has been quiet on the matter. A request for comment was not returned by the time of publication, though Justice administration Communications Director Butch Antolini told The (Beckley) Register-Herald the governor is reviewing the bill.

Justice wrote letters to Manchin and Capito in June for their opposition to the first bill. Justice also went after the West Virginia Legislature in those letters for cutting $54 million from Medicaid and replacing it with “voodoo, one-time money.”

If the Senate bill were to pass, it would head to the House of Representatives, where the chamber could vote on it as is or the bill would enter conference committee. The House passed its version of “Obamacare” repeal in May in a 217-213 vote. All of West Virginia’s House delegates — David McKinley, Alex Mooney and Evan Jenkins — voted for the measure.

Mooney, who was in Charleston last week for two conservative political events, said it is going to take significant legislative action, such as passing repeal and replace legislation, to reduce health care costs.

“They ought to pass something,” he said. “I’m not there, so when I voted for the bill I voted for, I had done my part. I want the process to play out. If the Senate passes a bill, whatever they pass, it could go to a reconciliation committee.”

The Senate Committee on Finance is scheduled to hear the bill Monday at 2 p.m. The U.S. Congressional Budget Office said it hopes to have a preliminary report early this week.

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