Health Care

Portman Not Thrilled with Senate Health Care Bill

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate’s draft of legislation intended to supplant the Affordable Care Act drew criticism from Democrats, progressive groups and even some Republicans.

What is described as a “discussion draft” of the legislation was released Thursday, following weeks of closed-door meetings that drew bipartisan criticism. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is said to be pushing for a vote next week before the July 4 recess.

Critics charge the legislation, which CNN posted here, would cut Medicaid, deprive millions of coverage and curtail efforts to combat the opioid epidemic in Ohio.

Among the Republicans issuing statements following the draft bill’s release Thursday was U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio.

Portman, who was part of a working group that discussed different aspects of the bill, offered less than full-throated support.

“I look forward to examining this new proposal carefully and reviewing the analysis by the Congressional Budget Office when it is available. If the final legislation is good for Ohio, I will support it. If not, I will oppose it,” Portman said.

“There are some promising changes to reduce premium in the individual insurance market, but I continue to have real concerns about the Medicaid policies in this bill, especially those that impact drug treatment at a time when Ohio is facing an opioid epidemic,” he continued.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said the Senate bill would end the Medicaid expansion and provide just $2 billion to address the opioid crisis nationwide, less than what the House bill calls for.

He cited a Harvard Medical School study that shows 220,000 Ohioans with addiction or mental health disorders now have coverage under the Affordable Care Act, 151,257 through the Medicaid expansion and 69,225 under private insurance purchased through the marketplace. Those individuals would lose that coverage under repeal of ACA.

In addition, the Senate bill does nothing to lower costs for Ohioans struggling to afford their premiums or prescription drug costs, Brown said. Ohioans between the ages of 50 and 65 who aren’t covered through an employer would face higher costs and be charged up to five times as much for coverage. In addition, all Ohioans could lose access to essential health benefits mandated under the current law.

The House bill the Senate used as the basis for its replacement bill would cause premiums to go up an average of about 20% next year, Brown said.

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-13 Ohio, said the Senate “doubled down” on the “ruinous” bill passed by the GOP-led House of Representatives. The legislation, if enacted will have “devastating consequences” for families, the elderly and the sick.

“It is an absolute betrayal of everything we stand for as Americans. Senate Republicans’ message to the American people: Tax cuts for the wealthiest among us take precedent over your affordable care,” Ryan said in a statement. “They took a House bill that didn’t reduce the cost of premiums, that didn’t expand health coverage for all, that didn’t protect people with pre-existing conditions and that nobody liked, and nobody wanted, and doubled down on it.”

On Twitter, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, expressed “deep concern” with the details of the Senate bill, including how it addresses treatment of individuals suffering from drug addiction, mental illness and chronic health problems.

“Sustainable solutions to the many complex problems facing our health care system will never be solved with a one-party approach that’s developed behind closed doors, without public discussion and input,” Kasich said. He encouraged senators to “step back and take a good, hard look at this important issue — and to reach across the aisle in working toward solutions. That’s the only way to address the flaws of Obamacare that we can all agree need to be fixed.”

U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, R-3 Pa., said simply on Twitter he looked forward to reviewing the bill and urged all Americans to do the same.

Katie Vlietstra, vice president of public affairs and government relations for the National Association for the Self-Employed, characterized the release of the legislation Thursday as “only the next step in a long and complicated process,” but praised policymakers for making health care a priority.

“It is imperative for any final health care legislation to be flexible, affordable and offer options for everyone throughout the American workforce,” she said. “We encourage the Senate to work with their House colleagues and Trump Administration to advance a plan that helps strengthen the American workforce.”

The bill would be a “disaster” for American families by raising costs, cutting coverage, weakening protections and ending “Medicaid as we know it,” Amy Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said. After leafing through the 142-page bill, it’s obvious why Senate Republicans “wanted to keep it a secret,” she remarked.

“What Republicans are treating as a parlor game has real-life consequences for America’s families, many of whom are already hanging on by a thread,” she said. AFT’s 130,000 members who are teachers, nurses and other health professionals “know firsthand the damage this bill will inflict on Americans, and we are committed to doing everything we can to prevent it from becoming law,” she added.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.