Senators play cautious hand in healthcare debate as interest groups ratchet up pressure

by Roby Brock ([email protected]) 615 views 

Arkansas’ two U.S. Senators continue to remain in a “listen” rather than “speak” mode on federal healthcare reform as several political and interest groups ratchet up pressure to force more public dialogue.

On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., postponed a vote on a Senate GOP version to partially “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act after it became obvious that too many Republican senators were opposed to the measure. McConnell is working on a revised version of the plan a day after GOP senators met with President Donald Trump on Tuesday (June 27). According to multiple reports and TB&P sources, a potential replacement version of the bill could still come this week as Senators head for their Fourth of July recess.

Arkansas’ two senators are working behind the scenes with colleagues and continue to refrain from making public statements about the legislation being developed or the changes where they and other members have expressed concern.

In response to requests from Talk Business & Politics, U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., offered comment through Patrick Creamer, his Senior Communications Advisor.

“The fact that the vote was pulled shows that Senate leadership understands there are a number of concerns within the caucus about the initial working draft. Senator Boozman and his colleagues are continuing to meet this week to try to overcome these differences and revise the plan,” Creamer said. “There are lots of moving parts at the moment, so he doesn’t want to get ahead of the discussions, but he hopes though that these yield a revised version that can be sent to CBO by Friday.”

Caroline Rabbit, spokesperson for U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., had a similar position.

“Senator Cotton continues to review the draft healthcare legislation currently making its way through the Senate. As discussions over the bill continue in the coming weeks, he will work closely with his colleagues on any changes to the draft that may occur. And he will evaluate all future versions of the legislation with the same careful consideration,” she said.

The caution suggests that the legislation being revised is largely in flux and any publicly-stated positions may be premature.

The red-hot temperature in Washington, D.C. is likely to spill over into next week when Senators and Congressmen return to the Natural State.

Arkansas Advocates for Children & Families says the only bill released publicly would be “devastating” for Arkansas.

“Research on the House-passed Affordable Care Act (ACA) replacement showed that it could result in 42 percent of Arkansas Medicaid enrollees younger than 65 being dropped from coverage. The Senate bill goes further, calling for even steeper cuts to Medicaid. It would effectively end Arkansas Works, the state’s Medicaid expansion program for adults with low incomes. These cuts would hit rural Arkansas the hardest because of the large number of children, older adults, and families who rely on the program to provide a consistent, affordable source of coverage,” said in a release.

They’ve put together “10 Reasons the Senate Health Reform Bill is Dangerous for Arkansas,” which talks about loss of coverage, cuts to kids and seniors, and strains on the state budget.

Notably, AACF contends the bill does not address rising healthcare costs. “Despite the sweeping changes the Senate bill will make to the health care system, it does not address the rising cost of health coverage and fails on the promise to provide cheaper care. Millions of children and families will pay higher costs and have less access to comprehensive care,” the group said in a statement confirmed by a Congressional Budget Office analysis.

Arkansas Hospital Association CEO Bo Ryall tells content partner KUAR 89.1 News that the impact to rural communities and hospitals would be significant. He said that uncompensated care – the amount of money hospitals write-off from those who cannot pay for insurance but who visit emergency rooms and require services – shifted $149 million in a positive direction for hospitals between 2013 and 2014, mostly due to Arkansas participating in the Medicaid expansion provision of the ACA.

“I can tell you that impact was so great amongst our hospitals that it kept a lot of hospitals open that otherwise would have had a hard time staying in business,” said Ryall.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson said on Monday that Arkansans shouldn’t panic at the prospects of the Senate negotiations on healthcare reform at this juncture. While he has concerns about Medicaid cuts and money being channeled to states that didn’t expand Medicaid under the ACA, he sees some positives in the initial draft.

“The biggest improvement is on the tax credit and the changes so that you’re not simply giving the higher income individuals the highest percentage of credits and that it’s balanced and it’s more fair. I think they’ve addressed a significant problem from the House version as a result of that. They have given us flexibility and they’ve upped the dollar amounts in terms of some of the innovation funds,” Hutchinson said.

The Democratic Party of Arkansas is calling on the state’s all-GOP delegation to hold town halls next week during recess in order for Arkansans to voice their concerns. Several weeks ago, town halls conducted by Sen. Cotton and U.S. Reps. French Hill (R-Little Rock) and Steve Womack (R-Rogers) turned rowdy as angry constituents showed up to protest repealing the ACA.

“Anyone who says this bill will not have a devastating effect on our state is clearly more interested in promoting a partisan agenda than they are the health of our citizens or the health of our economy in Arkansas,” said Democratic Party of Arkansas Chairman Michael John Gray, who also serves as a State Representative from Augusta.

“This bill ends the Arkansas Works program and ultimately puts the coverage, the access to care, and the financial security of tens of thousands of Arkansans at risk. Our federal congressional delegation owes every Arkansan an explanation,” he said. “If Republicans believe this legislation is a good path forward for our state and our country, then the least they can do is explain why to the voters of Arkansas.”

No public town halls have been scheduled, according to the web sites of Arkansas’ six Congressional officials.