With ‘Better Care’ Act Dead on Arrival, McConnell Moves to Repeal ACA 0

By Robert Pannier
Tellus Managing Editor

Just hours after two more Republican senators publicly confirmed that they will not vote for the Senate health care plan, the Better Care Act, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell effectively withdrew the bill from consideration, announcing that the Republican majority would attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as “Obamacare,” with the expectation that  the  Republican-controlled Congress will be able to come up with an alternative at some future date.

The defections of Senators Mike Lee (R-UT) and  Jerry Moran (R-KS),  combined with the previous defections of Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME),  have left McConnell two votes short of the fifty he needed to pass the bill.  Even with 50 Republicans lined up to pass the bill, McConnell would have needed Vice President Mike Pence to cast the deciding vote to break the 5o-50 tie and pass the Republican alternative health care plan.

The Better Healthcare Act was on life support from the start, after four Republican Senators, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah, released a joint statement indicating that they were “not ready to vote for this bill.” Although Cruz and Johnson subsequently recanted on their opposition to the McConnell plan,  Mike Lee and Rand Paul stayed the course when modifications to the original bill did not meet with their approval because the proposed plan left too many of the provisions  of the existing Obamacare plan intact.

The Senate Majority Leader had vowed to bring the Republican proposal to the Senate floor this week for a vote by the full Senate body, but that plan was derailed when Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) needed emergency surgery to remove a blood clot near his brain. With the Arizona Senator out of action for at least a week, Sen. McConnell opted to postpone the vote until Sen. McCain was able to return to Washington.

Tuesday’s announcement that the two Senators would no longer support the bill makes Sen. McCain’s return moot. Clearly, the bill does not have enough support to pass, leaving Republicans scrambling for an alternative.

Now, the Republican leadership turns to a promise that was frequently made during the most recent election – that they would repeal the Affordable Care Act. This became a hallmark promise for both Republicans running for the Congress as well as for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

Republicans have been vowing to repeal Obamacare since they gained control of the House of Representatives in 2011. When the GOP gained control of the Senate in 2015,  the Republican party made several attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act culminating with the Restoring Americans’ Healthcare Freedom Reconciliation Act of 2015,  which was vetoed by then-President Barack Obama.

When the Republicans took control of both houses of Congress and the White House in 2016, they vowed to repeal Obamacare and replace it with an alternative plan that would be more appealing to consumers. The “repeal and replace” plan was appealing to voters whose health insurance premiums had risen -sometimes dramatically – across the country. With many insurance companies opting out of the health care exchange, consumers were left with with few, if any, health insurance options . This had led to a call from both sides of the aisles to do something to fix the health insurance plan before the ACA collapsed.

The House of Representatives narrowly passed a bill earlier this year to repeal and replace the ACA. That plan was starkly criticized by several conservative Senators such as Rand Paul because the House bill  did not cut out enough benefits for lower income consumers.  When their turn at bat came up, Senate Republicans tried to craft a plan that would remove most of the benefits for low income consumers. That plan is now dead in the water in the wake of the defections of four senators, three of whom believed the measure didn’t go far enough toward dismantling the existing health care plan.

The two competing health care plans, one from the House and one from the Senate, received scathing reviews from the Congressional Budget office, which estimated that 22 million Americans would lose their current health care over the next ten years if either of the plans were enacted. National organizations representing physicians, nurses, hospitals and consumer groups all opposed the plans but perhaps the most important group to oppose the Republican plans were the nation’s health insurance providers, who also came out against the plans during the last few days before the bill was taken off the Senate’s docket.

One of the most unpopular provisions of the Republican plans were the attempts to cut back Medicaid funding, which – among other things – covers the costs for the vast majority of senior citizens who are now living in the nation’s nursing homes, most of which would collapse without Medicaid funding, leaving many of those senior citizens with nowhere else to go.

Now, the Republican Congress, led by the Senate rather than the House in a reversal of the usual process in which the House leads and the Senate follows, will focus on upholding their number one campaign promise by simply repealing the Affordable Care Act.  This amounts to a tacit admission that its attempts to defund Medicaid have aroused too much opposition from Republican voters to be a viable objective for Republican lawmakers. According to McConnell, the repeal would call for a phasing out the existing plan over a two year period, which would enable Congress to develop a new health care act but it isn’t clear that the Republicans have enough votes to pass any health care measures in the current Congress.