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Lawmakers discuss revised health care bill

Xavier Smith • Jul 17, 2017 at 8:59 PM

U.S. Senate Republicans unveiled last week its revised health care bill, known as the Better Care Reconciliation Act, which features some changes from the original bill.

“My first concern with the Senate health care bill is helping the 162,000 low-income Tennesseans who currently have no help with their health insurance and the 350,000 Tennesseans who may not be able to buy insurance in the individual market next year,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander. “The revised Senate health care bill ensures financial assistance for those 162,000 Tennesseans and includes an additional $70 billion to help lower-income Americans in the individual market in Tennessee and elsewhere be able to buy a reasonable health insurance policy.”

Changes in the Senate Republican’s original bill include an amendment from Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, that allows insurers to offer cheaper, minimal plans that cover fewer services as long as the plans cover essential benefits defined in the Affordable Care Act.

“I very much appreciate the way Senate leadership has taken input as they worked to craft this legislation,” said Sen. Bob Corker. “As we debate the bill next week, every senator – on both sides of the aisle – will have the opportunity to offer amendments and have their voice heard. I am encouraged by the direction of the bill and am hopeful the final product will be one that works better for the American people than what is in place today.”

The leader of the Small Business Majority, a national small business advocacy organization, highlighted potential risks with Cruz’s amendment.

“Since Cruz’s amendment would allow insurers to sell health plans that do not comply with [the Affordable Care Act] requirements, the [Better Care Reconciliation Act] would create parallel insurance markets for the sick and for the healthy,” said John Arensmeyer, Small Business Majority founder and CEO. “This would lead to unbalanced risk pools, driving up the costs for small business owners with older or sicker workers. Businesses with younger or healthier workers might see their costs decrease, but the plans they offer would provide less coverage, putting entrepreneurs and employees in a difficult position if an unexpected medical situation arises.”

Other changes include taxes on wealthier families and the ability for health savings accounts to fund health insurance premiums.

The revised bill also provides $45 billion to combat the nation’s opioid epidemic.

Gov. Bill Haslam discussed the state’s battle with opioids earlier this month with officials from the White House and other national and state officials.

Tennessee has the second highest rate of opioid prescription in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prescription. 

“While we’ve made huge progress – the amount opioid prescriptions have fallen dramatically – we’re still seeing increases in everything from overdoses to hospital emergency visits driven by opioids,” Haslam said last week in Mt. Juliet following the meeting in Chattanooga.

The revised bill also featured some of the same items from the original bill, including a provision that would repeal the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that every person has insurance and eliminates financial penalties for people who choose not to have health insurance.

The revised bill also keeps Medicaid changes the same as the original bill. The bill would slow spending on the program for elderly, low-income and disabled individuals and families.

Faith leaders from various local churches, including the Rev. Matt Steinhauer with Faith Lutheran Church, visited the offices Alexander and Corker last week to deliver postcards and letters from Tennesseans who would be harmed by Medicaid cuts contained in the Better Care Reconciliation Act.

“In addition to speaking on behalf of many Lutherans across Tennessee, I am also here to speak on behalf of my son, Matt. Matt is 23 years old. He still lives at home with his mother and me. He will most likely live with us for the rest of his life or the rest of ours. Matt has Down syndrome and he cannot speak for himself about this issue,” said Steinhauer, who said his son, along with about 5 million special needs people across the country, depend on benefits from Medicaid.

“I understand the concerns over budget deficits and the need to reduce the federal deficit. I do not understand solving our budget deficit on the backs of the poor, elderly and disabled. If these cuts to Medicaid are enacted, the need will still exist,” he said.

Steinhauer said the issue goes beyond religion and would add more unnecessary hardships to society’s most vulnerable.

“I haven’t heard a single suggestion as to how the need [for coverage] will be met by any elected official. The burden will fall on mothers, fathers and extended families and the communities of people who love these special human beings,” he said.

Sen. John McCain's absence from the Capitol this week led Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to delay consideration of the health care bill, and it could be a sign of just how narrow the vote margin might be.

McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, announced the schedule change Saturday night, after the announcement that McCain would be staying home in Arizona on the advice of doctors following surgery Friday to remove a blood clot.

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