Less than an hour after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced he would pull the Senate version of a bill to replace the 2010 health care bill known as Obamacare, Sen. Rob Portman announced his opposition to the current draft.
"I am committed to creating a better health care system that lowers the cost of coverage, provides access to quality care, and protects the most vulnerable in our society," Portman said. "The Senate draft before us includes some promising changes to reduce premiums in the individual insurance market, but I continue to have real concerns about the Medicaid policies in this bill, especially those that impact drug treatment at a time when Ohio is facing an opioid epidemic."
He said the Senate draft "falls short and therefore I cannot support it in its current form.
"In the days and weeks ahead, I’m committed to continue talking with my colleagues about how we can fix the serious problems in our health care system while protecting Ohio’s most vulnerable citizens.”
Portman issued the statement along with Sen. Shelley Moore Capito who also announced her opposition to the draft. They released it even as a bus carrying Republican senators headed to the White House for a meeting on health care with President Donald Trump.
McConnell, who had planned to hold a vote on the Senate bill this week, announced he was delaying that vote during a GOP caucus lunch of Senate Republicans Tuesday afternoon. Senators including Rand Paul of Kentucky and Susan Collins of Maine were among a handful of Republican senators who had already balked at the Senate's version of the bill to replace the 2010 Affordable Care Act. A Congressional Budget Office report Monday that found some 22 million would lose health-care coverage over the next decade under the Senate bill, though the bill would lower the deficit by $321 billion through 2026.
“This is a very complicated subject,” McConnell said. “I’m still optimistic we’re going to get there.” He said Democrats were “not interested in participating” in negotiations over the bill.
But Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said “we’re the first to say the Affordable Care Act needs improvement.” Democrats were not, however, willing to kick millions of people off insurance, he said.
The last-minute decision to pull the bill before an expected Thursday vote mirrors how the House earlier this year had to pull its initial bill repealing Obamacare before later narrowly passing a bill to replace to 2010 health care law in May.
Portman was among those who had expressed concern about the bill. But Portman did not say he planned to vote against the bill until late Tuesday. He did, however, express concerns that the Senate bill would roll back a Medicaid expansion that allowed Ohio Gov. John Kasich to insure 700,000 more Ohioans. Portman worries such a roll-back would cause the state's drug-addicted population to lose coverage.
Kasich, in D.C. for a board meeting with Siemans, told reporters at the National Press Club that he does not support the Senate bill as written. He said he had urged Portman not to accept “a few billion” to fight the nation’s opioid epidemic in exchange for drastic cuts to Medicaid, saying that the former would be “like spitting in the ocean.”
Kasich said he last spoke to Portman, who may be a key swing vote on the Senate health-care vote that could be taken on as early as this week, few weeks back.
“He knows what my concerns are,” he said, but cautioned “I don’t cast his vote.”
Kasich — who also objected to the House bill that passed in May — said the current bill is “unacceptable” and lacks the resources to cover the mentally ill, addicted and working poor. He supports making mental health and addiction services “essential benefits” that states are required to offer, but is more concerned that the drastic cuts in expenditures will leave people without coverage.
“If they don’t want to improve this bill, I’m not for this bill,” he said.
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, who opposed the bill, applauded the delay, saying it “will gie the people of Ohio more time to see how it impacts their lives.”
Even as the delay occurred, a survey released Tuesday shows that just 14 percent of registered voters in Ohio want Congress to scale back federal dollars for Medicaid.
The survey, sponsored by the American Medical Association and conducted by the Republican polling firm of Public Opinion Strategies, strongly suggests voters in Ohio are sharply opposed to many of the features of the health-care bill on the Senate floor backed to Republican leaders and President Donald Trump.
The poll shows that 47 percent of Ohio voters say federal and state spending for Medicaid should remain the same while 32 percent want to see spending increased. The poll also shows that 59 percent of Ohio voters approve of the Medicaid program in the state as it now exists.
Some Republicans wondered whether McConnell’s decision to delay will ultimately imperil the chances of repealing the 2010 law.
“There is a window to pass this, the window is very narrow and postponing this vote I’m not sure what is achieved or accomplished,” said one Republican, who spoke on the condition that he not be named.