As Graham-Cassidy bill speeds toward Senate vote, health insurers come out in opposition

Mitch McConnell
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is planning to hold a vote on the Graham-Cassidy bill next week. (Gage Skidmore/CC BY-SA 2.0)

Republicans’ latest attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act is headed for a vote on the Senate floor. But it will do so without the support of some very important stakeholders: health insurers.

“It is the Leader’s intention to consider Graham-Cassidy on the floor next week,” David Popp, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, said in a statement Wednesday.

The bill—authored by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La.—would do away with the current law’s subsidies, the individual and employer mandates, and Medicaid expansion, and replace them with block-grant funding for states. In addition, it would swap the traditional Medicaid program’s current open-ended financing structure for either block grants or per capita caps.

“Governors and state legislators of both parties would have both the opportunity and the responsibility to help make quality and affordable healthcare available to their citizens in a way that works for their own particular states,” McConnell said in a statement this week. “It’s an intriguing idea and one that has a great deal of support.”

Some state leaders, though, are clearly concerned by estimates of how much the bill could cut their healthcare funding. A group of 10 governors sent a letter (PDF) Tuesday to McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., asking them not to support the Graham-Cassidy bill and to “renew support for bipartisan efforts to make healthcare more available and affordable for all Americans.”

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Some powerful healthcare industry groups also are not convinced of the merits of this new brand of repeal-and-replace.

In a letter (PDF) sent Wednesday to Senate leaders, America’s Health Insurance Plans said the bill did not meet the guiding principles it has laid out for health coverage reform.

Instead, it would “have real consequences on consumers and patients by further destabilizing the individual market; cutting Medicaid; pulling back on protections for pre-existing conditions; not ending taxes on health insurance premiums and benefits; and potentially allowing government-controlled, single-payer healthcare to grow,” AHIP President and CEO Marilyn Tavenner said.

“While we cannot support this proposal, we will keep working to find the right solutions that reflect the commitment we all share: affordable coverage and high-quality care for every American,” she added.

The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association issued a similar statement, saying that “although we support providing states with greater flexibility in shaping healthcare options for their residents, we share the significant concerns of many healthcare organizations about the proposed Graham-Cassidy bill.”

Provider groups like the American Medical Association and National Nurses United have also spoken out against the bill, as FierceHealthcare reported.

Even former President Barack Obama weighed in on the latest ACA repeal push. Speaking during the Gates Foundation’s “Goalkeepers” event in New York on Wednesday, Obama called it “aggravating” to see his signature domestic policy achievement once again on the chopping block.

"And it is certainly frustrating to have to mobilize every couple of months to keep our leaders from inflicting real human suffering on our constituents,” he said.

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