Moderate Republican senators who opposed the original Obamacare replacement bill will face increased pressure from health care advocates to hold the line next week in a possible vote on the revised legislation.
“Republican senators who are on the fence should pretty much expect daily protests outside their offices at home and at their offices in D.C. by people who desperately want them to do the right thing and vote against this bill,” said Ben Wikler, Washington, D.C., director of the progressive advocacy group, MoveOn.org.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is pushing for a vote, possibly as early as Tuesday, on a motion to allow a floor vote on the amended Better Care Reconciliation Act, which was unveiled on Thursday to heavy criticism from a variety of health care groups.
The amended legislation, which would replace the Affordable Care Act, included several changes designed to gain support from GOP conservatives and moderates who opposed the first version.
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But critics say the revised bill is still unacceptable. Two GOP senators – Rand Paul of Kentucky and Susan Collins of Maine – said they will vote “no” against the legislation. That means Republicans can’t lose any more votes in order for the bill to pass the Senate in a full floor vote.
But a handful of moderate GOP senators who first opposed the Better Care Reconciliation Act, known as BCRA, are now undecided about supporting the revised version. They include Dean Heller of Nevada, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rob Portman of Ohio and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia.
That’s not sitting well with health care advocates who oppose how the legislation would slash Medicaid funding, cut financial assistance for marketplace coverage and allow individual insurers to charge older people five times more than younger people.
Groups like the American Medical Association and 33 cancer-related organizations also oppose the legislation, which would allow individual insurers to sell cheaper, less-comprehensive coverage if they also offer an insurance option that features coverage of essential health benefits required by the ACA, such as maternity care, prescription drug coverage and mental health services and maternity care.
“Any senator who cares about the health and financial security of their constituents must vote ‘no’ on the motion to proceed,” said Andy Slavitt, former acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under President Barack Obama. “There’s nothing in here for those moderate Republicans who promised their constituents to protect their care. Nothing they can stand on to defend a ‘yes’ vote.”
Beginning on Monday, a variety of progressive health care, labor, patient advocacy and women’s groups will stage a “People’s Filibuster,” with daily protests in a park outside the U.S. Capitol until the legislation passes or is stopped, Wikler said.
“We want to make sure that each senator that peaks outside sees a bunch of people in Senate Park chanting their opposition to the bill,” Wikler said.
In addition, dozens of protest actions are being organized in Republican states between now and when the vote occurs, Wikler said.
To keep the pressure on Heller, Murkowski and Capito, UltraViolet, a womens advocacy group, will have banner-carrying planes fly over Las Vegas, Anchorage and Charleston on Saturday, July 15. The banners will urge the three senators to “KEEP YOUR WORD. STOP TRUMPCARE.”
Nita Chaudhary, UltraViolet co-founder, said the planes will target parks, beaches, lakes and other summer recreation areas where voters congregate.
Chaudhary said Heller, Murkowski and Capito all expressed concerns about how Medicaid recipients and people with pre-existing conditions in their states would fare under the BCRA.
“They said we can’t support a bill like this because it’s cruel. Now we have a second bill that does zip about their concerns and all of a sudden they don’t know what they’re going to do?” Chaudhary said. “We are flying these planes to make clear that the voters of West Virginia, of Nevada, of Alaska, they’re still counting on these senators. Their lives are still going to be at risk if this bill goes through.”
In a statement, Capito said “I look forward to reviewing the revised Senate health care legislation and forthcoming CBO report to determine the impact on West Virginians but continue to have serious concerns about the Medicaid provisions.”
Heller said he needs to study the bill as well. “We’ll read it over the weekend and come up with a decision and see if there’s any improvements,” he told reporters on Thursday.
Murkowski’s position will be particularly interesting since the legislation would steer several hundred million dollars to Alaska over the next few years to help residents hurt by the legislation with their health care costs. No other state would receive the generous funding, which many view as an attempt to garner Murkowski’s support for the bill.
UltraViolet will also hold protests on Monday outside the state offices of Portman and Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana. Cassidy, another moderate Republican, wants to amend the legislation along with Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
In a statement, Portman said, “I’ll review the text of this new legislation just like I did the last version, and I will review the analysis from the Congressional Budget Office when it becomes available.”