Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Strike Two––The Republican Obamacare "Repeal and Replace" Fiasco

Three strikes and you're out.

On Monday, Senate Republicans approved proceeding to debate on "repealing and replacing" Obamacare by a vote of 50-50-1, with Vice President Mike Pence casting the deciding vote.

Strike One
Yesterday, Senate Republicans failed to approve the bill they had been working on for over a month, which included the Cruz amendment that would have bifurcated the individual health market into separate healthy and sick pools. The vote was 43-57. Of course, all Democrats voted no. The nine Republicans voting against the leadership bill included Collins (ME), Corker (TN), Cotton (AR), Graham (SC), Heller (NV), Lee (UT), Moran (KS), Murkowski (AK), and Paul (KY).

Interestingly, West Virginia’s Capito, who had expressed lots of reservations about the Senate bill, did not vote against it.

The list of those voting no included both the most conservative and the most moderate. Both Maine and Kansas have not expanded Medicaid. Yet, Collins and Moran both voted no, at least in part, because of the impact the long-range caps on Medicaid would have on the large senior populations (nursing home payments) benefiting from the baseline Medicaid program in their states.

Lee and Paul voted no because the Senate bill didn’t go far enough to reduce the cost of insurance. Paul’s objective is complete repeal generally wanting to go back to 2013. Lee also wants a wide-open market.

The rest, in one way or another, just saw the Senate bill as leaving too much trauma in its wake, with the CBO estimating that 22 million fewer would ultimately be covered, and are generally are calling for a return to the "regular order" committee process and bipartisan negotiations with Democrats. The problem with that approach is that most of the 43 Republican Senators that voted for the bill want nothing to do with an agreement that makes Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer happy.

All of this was made more complicated this week when the Senate parliamentarian ruled key provisions in the Senate bill out of order under budget reconciliation rules. These included the six-month lockout substitute for the individual mandate, association health plans, and going from 3:1 age rating to 5:1 age rating.

Strike Two
Repeal, with a two-year period within which to create a replacement, also failed, on a 45 to 55 vote. This time the Republican no votes included Alexander (TN), Capito (WV), Collins (ME), Heller (NV), McCain (AZ), Murkowski (AK), and Portman (OH).

The Last Attempt:
Now, McConnell will likely proceed to pass a “skinny” bill that only repeals provisions that arguably have unanimous support among Republicans: Repealing the medical device tax, the employer mandate, and the individual mandate.

His purpose is to just pass something that would keep this alive by having a bill to take back to the House for a conference. His hope is that he can ultimately hash out an agreement with the House. But that is nuts. The House bill is arguably even more conservative than the Senate bill. What makes McConnell think by bringing the Freedom Caucus back into these discussions that he can find a way to keep his moderate Republicans onside?

No one knows if this “skinny” strategy has 50 votes and won’t until the vote is taken.

Even if McConnell can pass the "skinny" option, I just can’t see a viable end game here for Republicans on their own.

There is also a zero chance of any kind of bipartisan agreement so long as a substantial majority of Republicans––as well as the Twitter in Chief––find a “bailout” of Obamacare unacceptable.

Let me also suggest that the Jeff Sessions fiasco has relevance here.

President Trump has said repeatedly that Obamacare is imploding. Any attempts now by the Secretary of HHS to administratively shore it up would likely put Secretary Price in the same boat that Attorney General Sessions is sitting in right now.

And, if we needed any more complications, the Anthem CEO’s comments this morning won’t help. He said, “We don’t believe we have been heard,” when referring to the largest Blue Cross carrier’s warnings to Congress and the administration about the precarious state of the individual health insurance market. He also said uncertainty over whether the $7 billion in low-income cost sharing subsidies would be paid by the Trump administration would lead to 20 points more in rate increases on top of the average 20% rate increases Anthem has already applied for. He also said that Anthem would consider getting out of more states if the Obamacare insurance exchanges aren't quickly stabilized.

The Anthem comments just underscore that the only thing a successful "skinny" strategy on the part of Republicans could lead to is a 2018 individual market fiasco, particularly for the individual market participants who don't get a subsidy.

If you had set out to design the perfect nightmare you couldn’t do it this well.
Avoid having to check back. Subscribe to Health Care Policy and Marketplace Review and receive an email each time we post.

Blog Archive