Will Republicans’ third attempt to get rid of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) finally be a charm? Well, those in the Senate are doing everything they can to see to it. Following weeks of closed door wheeling and dealing, the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017 (BCRA) has emerged from the Senate as the latest piece of proposed legislation to repeal and replace the ACA. Despite its name, there’s not much about this bill that’s “better”—at least not for the bulk of Americans.
The BCRA is nothing short of a broken promise to the American people to (1) improve upon the shortcomings of the House legislation, and (2) ensure affordable healthcare for all. On the contrary, this bill proposes to slash Medicaid funding even deeper than the House bill, defund Planned Parenthood, phase out the Essential Health Benefits that guarantee that every plan offers comprehensive health coverage, significantly weaken consumer health protections, and ultimately kick 22 million Americans off their health insurance. Special interests and tax cuts for the wealthy are prioritized above quality, affordable coverage, and our country’s most vulnerable populations are left with even narrower access to the care they need. Furthermore, this terrible policy is accompanied by even worse politics.
Like so much in our current political environment, the process of this bill, from start to finish, is unprecedented. Whereas passage of the ACA was preceded by nearly 15 months of debate, public hearings, and consideration of dozens of Republican amendments, the BRCA was crafted by an exclusive committee of 13 Republican lawmakers in virtual secrecy without input from the public or even the wider Senate. To add insult to injury, Senate Republicans led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have done everything they can to rush this legislation through Congress without adequate review, originally aiming to bring the bill to the floor mere days after releasing the text to the public. A bill of this magnitude—one that affects millions of Americans and represents an overhaul to one-sixth of the American economy—should not be a pawn in a partisan political game, but rather deserves the utmost transparency and rigorous evaluation. After all, it was Mitch McConnell himself, who in 2009 said, "Fast-tracking a major legislative overhaul such as healthcare reform…without the benefit of a full and transparent debate does a disservice to the American people.” Senator McConnell, I couldn’t agree with you more.
Nonetheless, there is a break in the clouds—Senator McConnell was forced to postpone voting on the BRCA as the GOP could not coalesce around the legislation before the July 4 Congressional recess. Like the House, many Republicans in the Senate are having a hard time reconciling this healthcare overhaul—some believing the bill goes too far, and others thinking the bill doesn’t go far enough. Many moderate senators, particularly those in Medicaid expansion states and states suffering from the opioid epidemic, are facing immense pressure and scrutiny from health advocates and constituents alike, and increasing visibility around the staggering consequences of the BCRA, compounded by the release of a dismal Congressional Budget Office (CBO) score have certainly made the job of selling this bill to the American public significantly harder.
Though the July 4 recess has temporarily sent our senators home, far away from Capitol Hill, it is important to note that just because we may not be hearing anything, does not mean nothing is happening. Senate Republicans have a few more tricks up their sleeve in the form of federal dollars that might entice senators who are on the fence about the bill to get on board. One of the ideas being touted to make the bill more palatable is the addition of a $45 billion opioid addiction treatment fund to support states suffering from the opioid crisis. However, given the massive cuts to insurance coverage that the BCRA proposes, this funding would still prove to be inadequate as people won't be able to access treatment that they can’t pay for. While it is uncertain whether moderate Republican senators will see this funding as an adequate remedy to their concerns, another way forward might even be repealing the ACA without a replacement. Despite its unpopularity with the American people, President Trump recently called on the GOP senators to repeal the ACA immediately if they cannot agree on a replacement soon. However, such a risky political move may be a gamble Senate Republicans aren’t willing to take.
So while we wait to see what’s next, what can YOU do?
The best thing you can do is continue to engage your senators. Call them. Email them. Tweet them. SEIU's Healthcare Security Hotline (866-426-2631) will connect you with a Republican Member of Congress based on your zip code. Let them know that passing a bill that causes millions of Americans to lose health insurance or pay more money for less care is not only reckless, but unacceptable. In this critical stretch, it is more important now than ever to take a stand. Never forget that the power to effect change is always with the American people and your voice matters. It is you— the patients, consumers, Americans—that we at the National Consumers League fight for and we will continue to stand with you in these efforts to protect our care.