This issue of Capitol Insider is devoted to a review of the Senate’s consideration of the effort to repeal/replace the Affordable Care Act.
Health Care; Medicaid; Long Term Supports and Services –
Repeal of The Affordable Care Act Fails in The Senate: A Week In Review
Last week was a critically important week for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and their families, indeed, for all people with disabilities. The result was what The Arc and its members had worked hard for over the last nine months. However, the week of Senate legislative action played out like an intense roller-coaster ride and the results were not predictable until the final vote in the early hours of Friday, July 28.
As the week began, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) planned a series of Senate floor votes on the efforts to repeal or replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and make fundamental structural changes to the Medicaid program. It was expected that the votes could be close, with 52 Republicans in the Senate and 48 Members of the Democratic caucus (including the two Independents who vote with the Democrats). Republicans would need at least 50 votes in support of any action or legislation to proceed – Vice President Mike Pence would be called upon to break any tie votes. Several Republicans had already expressed serious reservations about various provisions of the bills under consideration.
Monday, July 24:
Senator John McCain (R-AZ) made the surprise announcement that he would be returning to Washington DC, despite his recent brain surgery and cancer diagnosis.
Tuesday, July 25:
The Senate voted on the “Motion to Proceed” on debate of the repeal of the ACA. This is a procedural voted needed to begin debate on the bill. With Vice President Pence casting the vote to break the tie, the motion passed the Senate 51-50. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and all Democratic Caucus Senators voted no.
Following the successful motion to proceed, the Senate voted to replace the House-passed text with it’s own text, a version of the Better Care Reconciliation Act
- This bill included an amendment by Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) that would allow insurance companies to sell plans that do not comply with current insurance regulations as long as some of their plans do comply. Insurers could drop maternity care, mental-health treatment, and other benefits if they sell at least one health plan that includes them.
- This bill also included an amendment by Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) which would provide $100 billion to help people cover their deductibles and other expenses when they lost Medicaid coverage, and it would let states set up such arrangements without needing special federal approval.
Due to an opinion by the Senate parliamentarian, this bill would have required 60 votes to pass. With 57 “no” votes and 43 “yes” votes, the BCRA did not pass. The no votes were cast by Senators Murkowski (R-AK), Collins (R-ME), Heller (R-NV), Corker (R-TN), Cotton (R-AR), Graham (R-SC), Lee (R-UT), Moran (R-KS), Paul (R-KY), and the whole Democratic caucus.
Wednesday, July 26:
Following the defeat of the BCRA, the Senate held a vote on the Obamacare Repeal Reconciliation Act, a “repeal and delay” bill. This bill failed with 55 no votes and 45 yes votes. The no votes were cast by Senators Murkowski (R-AK), Collins (R-ME), Heller (R-NV), Alexander (R-TN), Capito (R-WV), Protman (R-OH), and the whole Democratic caucus.
Thursday, July 27 into Friday, July 28:
At around 10:30 pm Thursday, Majority Leader McConnell introduced the language of what had been called the “skinny repeal.” Officially titled the Healthcare Freedom Act, this bill would have struck down a few provisions of the ACA, including the individual mandate, the employer mandate, and the medical device tax. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reported that the Health Care Freedom Act would cause 16 million people to lose insurance and individual market premiums to go up by 20 percent. The insurance coverage provisions would have also resulted in a loss of $235 billion in the Medicaid program over 10 years.
At about 1:30 am Friday morning, the final vote on the Senate series of repeal efforts was completed with a defeat of the Health Care Freedom Act by a vote of 51-49, with Senators Collins (R-ME), Murkowski (R-AK), McCain (R-AZ), and the whole Democratic caucus voting against the bill.
What We Narrowly Avoided:
If the Health Care Freedom Act had passed the Senate, a joint House-Senate conference committee would have considered the Health Care Freedom Act and the House-passed American Health Care Act (AHCA) to develop a bill to be considered by both the House and Senate. Through the AHCA, per capita caps and over $830 billion in cuts to Medicaid over a decade would have been part of the consideration by the conference committee. The House also could have simply passed the “skinny repeal” without going to conference. Both of these scenarios were of major concern to many Senators and were a factor in decisions to oppose the bill.
The Arc of the United States released statement on the failure of the effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and make fundamental structural changes to the Medicaid program which can be seen here.
Several Senators have already announced efforts to work together to produce legislation to address issues left in limbo by the failure of the House and Senate efforts. Some are looking to work in a bipartisan manner to ensure that the affordability provisions in the ACA remain funded and to address health insurance market place issues. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) wrote to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Majority Leader McConnell indicating that “we have a responsibility to pivot from the current debate on health care and to work in a bipartisan fashion to lower costs, improve quality, and expand coverage, while strengthening the stability of the marketplaces.” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has similarly expressed a desire to work in a bipartisan manner to resolve the identified problems of the ACA.
As Congress continues to debate health care policy, The Arc and other disability advocates expect to remain fully engaged. In the meantime, sincere thanks and acknowledgement are due to the extraordinary efforts of people with disabilities and their families, friends, supporters, and providers throughout the country who shared their life experiences and made their voices heard on the issues of affordable, accessible health care and the critical importance of home and community based services and health care through Medicaid. This work over the last nine months clearly affected elected officials. It was a powerful combined effort and it helped force the defeat of misguided attempts to repeal the ACA and cut and cap the Medicaid program.