By Jill Zorn
The House passed the (Un) American Health Care Act (AHCA). Now it’s up to the Senate to craft their version of the bill. Can we count on senators to save us?
Is There Hope?
The Senate is not likely to produce a bill quite as terrible as the House bill.
Several influential Republican senators are already on the record objecting to the attacks on pre-existing conditions, the draconian Medicaid cuts and defunding of Planned Parenthood. Concerns have also been expressed that the tax credits in the House bill do not sufficiently subsidize care for people who are older, have lower incomes, live in high health care cost areas, or are sick.
Other senators may not feel that AHCA, as awful as it is, went far enough in dismantling the Affordable Care Act. For example, some of them are unhappy that the bill funds ANY tax credits, as paltry as they are.
If you’re trying to read the tea leaves by learning more about the range of divergent opinions among senators, check out the Hill article on five senators to watch or the Vox article on ten senators to watch.
It’s clear that the Senate also faces the same challenge that stopped the House from passing the first version of the AHCA in March. If you try to keep moderates on board by making fewer drastic cuts to current health care coverage, conservatives may not support the bill. But if you make the bill as cruel as possible to satisfy conservatives, moderates may not vote for it.
The Ugly Truth
While the Senate version of the AHCA may not be as bad as the House bill, let’s face it – that is a very low bar. Even a somewhat watered down version of the bill is still going to do a lot of damage.
It will still be a bill that cuts health care funding in order to give a huge tax break to the wealthy. Structural changes to Medicaid, such as block grants or per capita caps, are still very much on the table in the Senate and pose a huge risk. They will change the Medicaid program forever and leave states more on their own to care for low income families, elderly residents in nursing homes and disabled populations. In the end, millions of people are likely to lose their insurance coverage.
Here is the chilling fact: our fate is in the hands of Mitch McConnell and 12 other male senators. Hailing mainly from red states in the south and the west, this group, with no gender or racial diversity, does not inspire confidence that they have our best interests in mind. They are already busy drafting the new version of the AHCA, with the aim of passing by July 4.
The Senate moderates who are most on the record against some of the worst AHCA provisions are conspicuously absent from this working group. This may be an indication of how little political clout they have, and how much it is assumed that, in the end, they will buckle under to pressure from Senate leadership. The moderates in the House turned out to be a “cheap date,” as Michael Miller of Community Catalyst recently pointed out. It’s not clear that Senate moderates will prove any different.
The Senate only needs 51 votes (50 senators, plus Vice President Pence) to pass the AHCA through the budget reconciliation process, which avoids the 60 votes usually needed in the Senate to overcome a filibuster.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell knows how to count votes and he knows how to keep his caucus together despite their differences, and get bills passed. He is on the record promising to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Like his House counterparts, he won’t be above telling lies to sell the bill to the public.
On Monday, McConnell was cautious but clear about his intentions: “This process will not be quick or simple or easy, but it must be done.”
We can’t sit back and hope that the Senate will save us. We must fight as hard as we can to stop them from passing the AHCA. And we also must start forging a new way forward.
Now is the time to contact Senators Blumenthal and Murphy. Let them know we have their back. Share your health care story. Ask them to do what they can to stop AHCA in its tracks. Ask them to fight any bill that increases the number of uninsured, undermines consumer protections and cuts or makes fundamental changes to the Medicaid program.
Senator Richard Blumenthal
CT Offices: (860) 258-6940 (Hartford) & (203) 330-0598 (Bridgeport)
DC Office: (202) 224-2823
Website (for email): blumenthal.senate.gov
Senator Chris Murphy
CT Office: (860) 549-8463 (Hartford)
DC Office: (202) 224-4041
Website (for email): murphy.senate.gov
If you’re interested in defending health care and in being part of the solution, sign up for Protect Our Care CT. Join with other individuals and groups in Connecticut to fight back AND move forward toward a positive vision of health care for all.