GOP Sen. Heller op­poses health bill

The cen­trist Ne­vadan’s de­fec­tion could be cru­cial.

Los Angeles Times - - OPINION - By David Lauter david.lauter @la­times.com

WASH­ING­TON — Ne­vada Sen. Dean Heller said Friday that he planned to vote against the Repub­li­can health­care bill, a po­ten­tially key de­fec­tion.

Although the White House and Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell of Ken­tucky have said they plan fur­ther ne­go­ti­a­tions over the bill, “it’s go­ing to be very dif­fi­cult to get me to a yes,” Heller said at a news con­fer­ence in Las Vegas with Gov. Brian San­doval, a fel­low Repub­li­can.

The bill un­veiled Thursday by McCon­nell is “sim­ply not the an­swer,” Heller said. “In this form, I will not sup­port it.”

Given the uni­fied Demo­cratic op­po­si­tion to the bill, McCon­nell can af­ford to lose only two Se­nate Repub­li­cans, so Heller’s an­nounce­ment is sig­nif­i­cant.

A no vote by Heller would not seal the fate of the bill, how­ever. Heller is widely viewed as the most vul­ner­a­ble Repub­li­can sen­a­tor up for re­elec­tion in 2018 — the only one run­ning in a state that Hil­lary Clin­ton car­ried last year — and Repub­li­can lead­ers have been hop­ing to avoid hav­ing to count on his vote.

Heller cited sev­eral rea­sons for op­pos­ing the bill, but the chief one was its deep reductions in fed­eral sup­port for Med­i­caid.

“This bill will mean a loss of cov­er­age for mil­lions of Amer­i­cans and many Ne­vadans,” he said.

Ne­vada, un­der San­doval, has used its author­ity un­der the Af­ford­able Care Act to ex­pand Med­i­caid, which has given health cov­er­age to more than 210,000 ad­di­tional state res­i­dents, the gover­nor said.

“These are folks who are worth fight­ing for,” San­doval said.

The Se­nate bill would end Med­i­caid ex­pan­sion, and the cut­backs in fed­eral sup­port would cost the state $120 mil­lion a year by 2022, with the amount ris­ing sharply af­ter that, he said. “That’s a cost that the state can­not sus­tain.”

Heller also cited the bill’s im­pact on treat­ment for opi­oid ad­dic­tion and the like­li­hood that the plan would fail to re­duce pre­mi­ums.

“There isn’t any­thing in this piece of leg­is­la­tion that will lower your pre­mi­ums,” he said, con­tra­dict­ing one of the main ar­gu­ments that sup­port­ers of the bill have made.

Heller’s an­nounce­ment in­creases the pres­sure on McCon­nell to find ways of per­suad­ing sev­eral other re­luc­tant se­na­tors to sup­port the bill.

Four con­ser­va­tives, Sens. Rand Paul of Ken­tucky, Mike Lee of Utah, Ted Cruz of Texas and Ron John­son of Wis­con­sin, said Thursday they were op­posed to the bill in its cur­rent form be­cause it does not go far enough to roll back the Af­ford­able Care Act.

Sev­eral more cen­trist se­na­tors, in­clud­ing Sens. Su­san Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rob Port­man of Ohio and Shel­ley Moore Capito of West Vir­ginia, have voiced con­cerns sim­i­lar to Heller’s about the depth of the bill’s Med­i­caid cut­backs and its im­pact on opi­oid treat­ment.

Collins and Port­man have both said they want to re­view the anal­y­sis of the bill from the Con­gres­sional Budget Of­fice be­fore mak­ing up their minds.

The budget of­fice has said it will re­lease that as­sess­ment early next week.

E. Verduzco Re­view-Jour­nal

SEN. DEAN HELLER says the GOP bill does noth­ing to cut pre­mi­ums.

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