House Republicans struggled to unite around the American Healthcare Act after an analysis from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projected that the measure would result in 24 million Americans losing their health insurance while raising premiums for those covered on the individual market.
Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA) called the report “awful” when approached by reporters. “President Trump said he wants as many people covered as under Obamacare,” he said. “And so if there’s truly—what is it, 14 million people?” At this point, a reporter confirmed that was the figure for the first year, but that the number would rise to 24 million within a decade. “Yeah, of course it’s a concern!” Cassidy continued. “I mean, I try to avoid hyperbole and adjectives—kind of an Ernest Hemingway way of speaking—but still, it’s just, how we say, concerning.”
John Cornyn (R-TX), the Senate Majority Whip, attempted to distance himself from the House bill, saying that he and his colleagues “expected to do better.” He ensured reporters that Republicans would “continue to work on the bill to try and build support for it. But until they do, there’s not much for the Senate to do.” He called conservative predictions that the bill can’t pass the Senate “premature.”
Another senator came out against a provision of the legislation that would strike funding for states to expand Medicaid beyond 2019. The GOP’s proposal would also shift Medicaid’s “per capita cap” from a system where the federal government pays for the entirety of an enrollee’s medical bills to one in which states would receive a set amount per Medicaid enrollee, and Medicare already doesn’t provide enough funds to cover the actual cost of providing care. “I’m concerned about the Medicaid population. That’s the biggest part of the coverage for Ohio,” said Senator Rob Portman (R-OH).
The impact of CBO’s analysis has continued to erode support from key centrists, including Representative Rob Wittmann (R-VA), who in a statement announced he would oppose the measure even though he supports repealing Obamacare. After reviewing this legislation and receiving the Congressional Budget Office score today, it is clear that this bill is not consistent with the repeal and replace principles for which I stand,” he said. “I do not think this bill will do what is necessary for the short and long-term best interests of Virginians and therefore, I must oppose it.”
Other legislators made efforts to avoid elaborating on the CBO’s report, dismissing questions from reporters. When Slate reporter Jim Newell asked Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) about the report, Hatch told him he had not had a chance to look at it. “When I relayed the 24 million figure to him, he simply offered, ‘That’s what it says,’ Newell wrote. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) also shunned questions, telling reporters that he is still “reviewing the report.” Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), and Roger Wicker (R-MS) admitted they hadn’t looked at the report at all. When asked if he’d had an opportunity to review the report, Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) quipped, “It’s long!”
House leaders made an entirely different case, however.