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Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Next Two Weeks in the Senate Are Crucial

Jane Sheehan

Government Affairs Associate

The next two weeks are critical. Senate leadership is seeking a vote on a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act and drastically cut Medicaid by the end of the month. Since the House passed the American Health Care Act (AHCA) in May, senators have been working behind the scenes on their version of the legislation, reported to be very similar to the unpopular House bill

With the July 4 recess period approaching, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is eager to move the bill forward before senators go home to face their constituents.

Even if this self-imposed deadline slips into July, we must be vigilant and make noise about this disastrous plan now more than ever. Find out what you can do to stop the Senate from destroying America's health care.

Senate bill is behind closed doors

It is possible that the public, and many senators, will not see the final Senate proposal until a vote is near at hand. Senate aides have stated that bill language is unlikely to be released with sufficient time for public reaction.

Watch for a last-minute bait-and-switch as the Senate debates House bill, but votes on different bill

Republicans are trying to pass the bill with a simple majority, which is why they are using the fast-track budget reconciliation process to do it. Budget reconciliation requires 20 hours of debate on the Senate floor. 

We are hearing rumors that the Senate leadership could begin debate on the House-passed version of AHCA and, at the last minute, swap in a substitute bill, providing little time for outside review and analysis. 

Senate rules also require a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) score of the new bill. We expect there will be a CBO score, but only at the last minute.

It is likely that senators and the public alike will have only a few hours to digest the CBO’s new evaluation before a vote occurs. 

So what do we know about the Senate bill?

Without bill language, public hearings, or any substantial release planned of what is in the Senate proposal, it is especially crucial that lawmakers be held accountable for what they will vote on, on behalf of their constituents. 

It is possible major ideas from the Senate bill will leak over the next few days and weeks, in which case the public should be prepared to analyze and respond. From what we’ve heard so far, we expect the Senate bill to be similar to the AHCA, comprising major Medicaid cuts, ending the Medicaid expansion, weakening of consumer protections including for people with pre-existing conditions, and massive rollbacks of enrollment. 

The CBO estimated that the AHCA would leave 23 million more people uninsured. On top of coverage losses, through the restructuring of the Medicaid program, states have a lot to lose depending on what cap formula is chosen and their current Medicaid spending.

Though the Senate may make tweaks to their bill to appease more moderate senators, it is critical to amplify that the harmful AHCA should not be treated as the baseline. President Trump himself has called this bill "mean." 

Even if the legislation inflicts 80 percent of the pain the AHCA would cause the country, it is no substitute for the quantity and quality of coverage of current law. 

Now is a critical time to weigh in

Though Leader McConnell and many Senate Republicans would like to hold a vote imminently and put this fight behind them, there are still details they must iron out. Between now and the July 4 recess, the public must weigh in on this effort. There’s no time to waste.

Individuals and groups should weigh in with their lawmakers now. Make calls, send emails, and go to rallies, especially in state events. Senate leadership only needs 50 votes to push their legislation through, and they are determined to push ahead.  

Visit our Protect Our Care Action page to learn how you can get involved in the campaign to stop this.