Yesterday, after three more weeks of backroom deals and secret negotiations, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell unveiled a ‘new’ health care repeal bill that features all the same failings of the previous version. There simply isn’t a tweak big enough that can fix what’s fundamentally wrong with this bill. It still guts Medicaid by more than $2 trillion over the next two decades, forces people to pay more for skimpier coverage and undermines access to services like maternity care or substance use disorders treatment.
Instead of addressing these underlying issues, the latest version of the bill includes a new idea by none other than the Senate’s most famed agitator, Sen. Ted Cruz. Rumors of this amendment swirled for days, and the version that made its way to the bill lives up to the expectations: it’s yet another way to undermine coverage for people with preexisting conditions. By allowing insurance companies to offer bare-bones plans that don’t comply with the Affordable Care Act’s consumer protections – such as the essential health benefits, the ban on coverage denials and cost increases based on health status, and the limits on out-of-pocket costs – this new provision essentially takes us back to the old days of bad insurance practices. This would result in two systems of insurance: one for healthy people and one for those who are sick or have preexisting conditions. It’s a high-risk pool dressed up in new clothes.
During the July 4th recess, members of the Senate, including Sen. Chuck Grassley and Sen. Shelly Moore Capito, publically opposed Cruz’s proposal and at least six others have promised to protect people with preexisting conditions. Conservative groups, the insurance industry and insurance market experts all agree that Cruz’s proposal will destabilize the insurance market and lead to higher costs for people with preexisting conditions. So why isn’t this bill dead on arrival?
Even if Cruz’s proposal ends up in the trash where it belongs, there is still no way to fix this bill. Members of Congress have seen the public polls and they’ve heard it from angry constituents at town halls and jamming their phone lines. It’s time to end the circus and start working on bipartisan solutions that won’t force millions of people to lose their coverage, destabilize the insurance market and irreparably damage the Medicaid program that is a lifeline for low-income families, children and seniors.