Whether you agonized over or were elated by the narrow passage of the Republican health care bill in the U.S. House of Representatives this week, U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran has a message: Relax, there’s a lot more legislating ahead.
“What I would say is it doesn’t matter that much in the Senate, because we’re going to start from scratch,” Moran, a Kansas Republican, said Friday after he briefed University of Kansas Medical Center researchers on National Institutes of Health funding increases.
Republicans in the House celebrated Thursday’s 217-213 passage of the Affordable Health Care for America Act, which rolled back many of the reforms in the Affordable Care Act, commonly called “Obamacare.”
House Democrats predicted it would sink several Republicans’ re-election chances.
But almost immediately upon passage, senators from both parties said the bill was dead on arrival in their chamber and they wouldn’t even take it up. Instead, they will try to write their own bill and then negotiate a compromise with the House — a process that could take months.
The Senate has formed a working group to begin crafting its plan, but Moran said he wants the process to be more inclusive.
“Everybody ought to be at the table,” said Moran. “… I want the committees of jurisdiction to hold hearings, bring the experts who know about health care from across the country, bring citizens to tell us their stories. Then I want every senator, all 100 of us, to have the chance to offer amendments, make suggestions, take votes.”
Republicans hold 52 of the Senate’s 100 seats, which leaves little room for GOP defections and also might help spur Democratic involvement on a compromise plan.
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, said the House’s bill won’t survive the Senate. McCaskill said there are problems with the Affordable Care Act that need to be fixed and that she’s open to negotiating with Republicans, pointing to the health care exchanges set up under the law.
“I think that if there’s not an option of more than one insurance company that people can buy from on the exchanges, they ought to be able to buy into the federal system. Why can’t somebody pay to get the insurance that federal employees get? That’s the type of thing that I hope we could get an agreement on,” McCaskill said during a visit Friday to the Teamsters Hall in Kansas City.
McCaskill said that many Democrats are willing to consider changes to the current law, but that so far they have not been engaged by majority Republicans.
“They haven’t even talked to us yet. This is all being done, every single bit of this, is being done behind closed doors with a small group of Republican leaders and people from the White House,” she said.
She contended that the House held its vote before the Congressional Budget Office had performed an analysis of its impact because it would have been unable to pass if the numbers of people who would lose insurance had been known.
“I think we made some mistakes when we passed Obamacare. I’m the first to admit that. ... A couple of the mistakes that we made: We did it with all votes from one party. We didn’t carefully look at every consequence of the bill when we did it,” she said. “But at least we had a CBO score.”
U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican, said in a statement that he applauds the House “for moving forward to reform our health care system and address the pain of higher taxes and higher costs Kansans have faced as a result of Obamacare.”
Roberts could play a key role in tweaking the House plan as a member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. He said he looks forward to fully reviewing the bill and working “to strengthen our health care system for patients and providers while protecting our scarce taxpayer dollars.” He said he expects the Senate “to concentrate on increasing plan choices and lowering premiums.”
He also hinted the tweaks in the Senate could take time.
“We must act immediately on health care reform, but we will not set artificial deadlines,” he said.
U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican, pointed to the problems with the current law when asked for his thoughts on the House vote rather than discussing the specific details of the GOP plan.
“Missourians are struggling under ObamaCare, which has left them with higher costs, fewer options, and more uncertainty about what lies ahead. This year, Missouri has 97 counties with only one insurer option on the exchange, many of which may have no option next year. The law has failed to live up to its promises, and it needs to be repealed and replaced,” Blunt said in a statement. “The House took an important step in that direction, and the Senate will continue advancing that effort and working to expand access to quality, affordable health care.”
Moran said he had several concerns about the Affordable Care Act, including rising out-of-pocket costs, declining insurance choices in some areas and insurance mandates on employers with 50-plus full-time employees. But he said he has heard and understands the plight of people with pre-existing conditions who have been helped by the ACA.
“There have been people over the years who have said the Affordable Care Act was important and valuable, useful to me and my family,” Moran said. “My response to that is, ‘I’m glad. I’m glad it was helpful to you. We need to figure out how to take care of your circumstance without doing damage to so many other people.’ That would be the goal here, is to not harm people, but to make it work better for everyone. I don’t know exactly what that looks like and what that means in every circumstance.”