ACA repeal advances through two committees; next stop Budget Committee

(Photo Credit: NIHClinicalCenter via Flickr Creative Commons)

After months of waiting for concrete proposals for a repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, the GOP unveiled their plan — and began voting on the measure — this week. Two influential House Committees pulled all-nighters Wednesday, ultimately moving the measure closer to a full hearing in the U.S. House of Representatives. But while lawmakers act on the proposal before them, word from the White House is that the bill is still open for negotiation – and could just be the first phase of a multi-step process to re-frame the nation’s healthcare law. FSRN’s Nell Abram has more.

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The U.S. House Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce Committees advanced the GOP repeal of the Affordable Care Act Thursday. The votes came despite widespread opposition from the healthcare industry, senior citizens, reproductive health providers and advocates for the poor.

The bill, officially called the American Health Care Act, and euphemistically called Trumpcare by some, moved forward on party-line votes in both committees, even though there are still no concrete estimates of how many millions of people stand to lose their insurance plans, or how much the measure will cost.

The bill keeps the pre-existing condition provision of the Affordable Care Act, and still allows parents to cover their children until they are 26-years-old. But it would remove both the requirement that taxpayers buy health insurance and the sliding-scale subsidy to help those who do purchase policies afford the premiums.

Instead, the GOP-sponsored bill would charge a penalty to anyone who lets coverage lapse and then seeks to buy a new policy, and provides discounts based on age rather than financial need.

Opponents say the measure will gut access to healthcare for many Americans, and bankrupt many more.

In the wee hours of the morning, Massachusetts Congressman Joe Kennedy III took issue with one component of the bill that blocks federal funds not only from Planned Parenthood – but potentially from any hospital facility that provides abortion services. He was most concerned about the impact on roughly 11 million people in low-income families covered under Medicaid or eligible under Medicaid expansion.

“A lot of the screenings that are done, or would be available to that patient population around the country, no longer are guaranteed coverage because of what you have written in your bill, because you repealed the essential health benefits for those 11 million people,” the Massachusetts Democrat said. “So if they’re not going to get them there anymore, and they’re not going to get them through Medicaid, and you can’t get them from Planned Parenthood – where are you supposed to get them? How is that supposed to happen?”

Congressman Kennedy also railed against the legislative process that brought the measure up for a vote without a hearing on the underlying issues, or explanations of policy: “So here we are at 2:20 in the morning, trying to understand the rationale behind a paragraph in a 60-page piece of legislation that overhauls our healthcare system, and how it’s going to impact far more people than is initially evident in this bill – far more people. Because you have to understand how these pieces fit together. The impact this could have on that population is devastating, and we can’t get any answers about it.”

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle expressed concern about the future for rural hospitals.

Democrats introduced a raft of amendments – all of them failed. But a number of Republican amendments passed. One would let insurance company executives avoid paying taxes on up to $1 million dollars in annual compensation; another gave more than $400 billion in tax breaks to the insurance companies themselves.

GOP lawmakers also amended the bill to lift taxes on prescription medication and health insurance premiums – funds which offset expanding Medicare and funding subsidies for lower-income consumers. And they approved making tanning salons tax-free as well.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has not released numbers on the bill yet, but is expected to do so next week. For its part, the House Ways and Means Committee refused to delay action until after the numbers are out.

The bill goes to the House Budget Committee next week, and Speaker Paul Ryan hopes to send it to the full floor by March 20th. But a number of Republican Senators have come out against the measure, making its future in that chamber uncertain.

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