GOP’s re­peal-only bid fal­ters

State’s two sen­a­tors say re­peal now, re­place later

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - FRANK E. LOCK­WOOD AND ANDY DAVIS

WASH­ING­TON — Congress should re­peal the Pa­tient Pro­tec­tion and Af­ford­able Care Act now and come up with a re­place­ment later, Arkansas’ two U.S. sen­a­tors said Tues­day.

In in­ter­views, U.S. Sens. John Booz­man and Tom Cot­ton said they are ready to vote for leg­is­la­tion that would phase out the Af­ford­able Care Act over a two-year pe­riod.

But a fel­low Repub­li­can, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchin­son, said Congress shouldn’t vote to elim­i­nate the pro­gram un­til an al­ter­na­tive is ready.

“It is im­por­tant to know where we are go­ing with a re­place­ment bill at the same time we re­peal,” he said in a writ­ten state­ment Tues­day af­ter­noon.

Speak­ing with re­porters ear­lier Tues­day, Hutchin­son said it’s risky to end the Af­ford­able Care Act if there’s still no agree­ment on what to re­place it with.

“A re­peal without a [ re­place­ment] would be pro­vid­ing in­sta­bil­ity in our health care sys­tem, and not give con­fi­dence, and it would

cre­ate worry and anx­i­ety among peo­ple in Arkansas that are re­liant upon some as­sur­ance we’re go­ing to have af­ford­able health care,” Hutchin­son said.

Un­less 48 of Booz­man’s and Cot­ton’s col­leagues agree with them, the leg­is­la­tion won’t ad­vance. News re­ports this week said there had been enough Repub­li­can de­fec­tions to block it.

“I don’t know if it will pass,” Cot­ton said. “I do think that the re­peal now and re­place later op­tion is prob­a­bly the best prac­ti­cal op­tion we have to­day.”

Se­nate Repub­li­cans passed sim­i­lar leg­is­la­tion when Barack Obama was pres­i­dent, the law­maker from Dar­danelle noted.

“I can’t imag­ine why a Repub­li­can se­na­tor who voted for that bill 18 months ago would flip-flop with the bill in­tro­duced now. You’d cer­tainly have some ex­plain­ing to do to your vot­ers at home on such a bla­tant flip-flop,” he said.

Booz­man ex­pressed con­fi­dence that the two-year de­lay would al­low for a smooth tran­si­tion.

“It would give us time to put it in the ap­pro­pri­ate com­mit­tees and start hold­ing hear­ings and see if we can come to an agree­ment,” the law­maker from Rogers said.

“We can go for­ward with things that are im­por­tant,

such as mak­ing sure that we don’t lose [cov­er­age for] pre-ex­ist­ing con­di­tions,” he said.

Repub­li­cans say the Af­ford­able Care Act has led to higher pre­mi­ums, co- pays and de­ductibles, mak­ing health care un­af­ford­able for mil­lions of Amer­i­cans. Democrats say pro­posed Repub­li­can changes would re­sult in mil­lions more Amer­i­cans be­ing unin­sured.

With the out­come of re­peal and re­place in doubt, Pres­i­dent Donald Trump said Repub­li­cans may al­low the ex­ist­ing sys­tem to fester.

“I can tell you the Repub­li­cans are not go­ing to own it. We’ll let Oba­macare fail, and then the Democrats are go­ing to come to us,” he told re­porters on Tues­day.

Booz­man said that’s not a strat­egy he em­braces.

“Lots of peo­ple are de­pen­dent on their in­surance for this. In fact, I’m one of them,” he said. “I wouldn’t do any­thing that would in­ten­tion­ally make the sys­tem worse as we go for­ward.

“I think the pres­i­dent is speak­ing out of frus­tra­tion. I think that he will em­brace the plan that we’re com­ing up with and we’ll go for­ward and get this solved.”

Cot­ton said do­ing noth­ing is not an op­tion.

“Oba­macare is fail­ing, and if Congress takes no ac­tion, it’s go­ing to con­tinue to fail be­cause it’s fun­da­men­tally flawed in its de­sign,” he said.

In his writ­ten state­ment, Hutchin­son called for a bi­par­ti­san

ef­fort to fix the sys­tem.

“Lead­ers from all par­ties agree that our na­tion’s cur­rent health- care sys­tem is clearly not work­ing, and it is in­cum­bent on us, as lead­ers, to find so­lu­tions to im­prove it. Democrats must join Repub­li­cans at the table and work to ac­com­plish a so­lu­tion to sup­port sus­tain­able health care in our na­tion. Gov­er­nors, in­clud­ing my­self, stand ready to part­ner with our col­leagues in Congress in this ef­fort.”

While elected of­fi­cials grap­pled with the is­sue, in­sur­ers were care­fully mon­i­tor­ing the de­vel­op­ments.

Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield, the state’s largest health in­surance com­pany, has been fo­cused on pro­vid­ing in­for­ma­tion to Arkansas’ con­gres­sional del­e­ga­tion and state of­fi­cials on how var­i­ous pro­pos­als un­der discussion would af­fect the state, com­pany spokesman Max Green­wood said.

One con­cern, she said, is en­sur­ing that the fed­eral gov­ern­ment pro­vides fund­ing for the so-called cost shar­ing re­duc­tion sub­si­dies, which re­im­burse in­sur­ers for re­duc­ing the out-of-pocket costs for low-in­come con­sumers.

The loss of those sub­si­dies “would im­pact the af­ford­abil­ity of prod­ucts, and it would im­pact the abil­ity of peo­ple to re­ceive care,” Green­wood said.

AP/CAROLYN KASTER

Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell (cen­ter) said Tues­day that while he re­grets not be­ing able to pass the Se­nate health care bill, “that doesn’t mean we should give up.”

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