Cory Gardner taking 'first' look at health care bill he helped create; Dems slam bill and process

DENVER – U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner said Thursday that he was taking his first look at the Senate’s version of the replacement for the Affordable Care Act, which he helped craft, and that the bill “deserves serious debate, not knee-jerk reaction.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell released the 142-page discussion draft of the Senate’s health care bill, which they have dubbed the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017, Thursday morning after weeks of anticipation and fervor over what has so far been a secretive process without any open committee hearings.

Gardner told Denver7 Wednesday he hadn’t seen a text version of the bill despite being one of a handful of Republicans working in small groups to craft the bill. Senate Republicans wrote their own bill after the House of Representatives passed its version, the American Health Care Act, in early May.

Most senators have so far said Thursday they are waiting to read and analyze the full bill before saying whether or not they will support it or if it differs significantly from the House version.

But Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, called the bill “every bit as bad as the House bill” and other Republicans, including Maine’s Susan Collins, said they were carefully scrutinizing the bill.

Gardner slammed those who he said were jumping to conclusions about the bill without fully analyzing it.

“It’s frustrating that instead of actually reviewing the legislative text some have decided to immediately oppose the bill before it was even introduced,” Gardner told Denver7 in a statement. “This deserves serious debate, not knee-jerk reaction.”

He said he was “beginning to carefully review” the bill and to look at ways to “rescue” Colorado from what he called the “negative impacts” the Affordable Care Act across the U.S.

Democrats, as expected, haven’t been so keen on the bill or the process by which the bill was put together.

But his Senate colleague from Colorado, Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., continued to slam the process by which Senate Republicans put the bill together.

“You couldn’t design a bill less responsive to what the opponents of Obamacare have said they want than the bill that recently passed the House of Representatives,” Bennet said. “The Senate proposal is just as bad, if not worse, than that legislation because it decreases coverage and increases costs instead of expanding quality and affordable health care.

Bennet added that Coloradans deserved a “full debate and an open process when it comes to reforming something that affects one-sixth of our economy.”

“Instead of writing a bill in secret and rushing to pass it before an arbitrary deadline, we should work in a bipartisan and transparent way to provide more predictability, affordability, and transparency to give Coloradans the health care system they deserve,” Bennet added.

President Barack Obama, who has mostly avoided the public spotlight in his time since he left the White House, even chimed in on the Senate’s bill, saying, “The Senate bill, unveiled today, is not a health care bill. It’s a massive transfer or wealth from middle-class and poor families to the richest people in America.”

“Simply put, if there’s a chance you might get sick, get old, or start a family – this bill will do you harm,” he continued.

Read the former president’s full statement here.

“The Senate Republican plan devastates the Medicaid program and allows states to strip essential health coverage for many hardworking Coloradans. This process is ridiculous and the health care bill is even worse” said Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., adding that the Senate plan was “disastrous.”

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, also a Democrat, said that the Senate’s bill would “take Colorado backward,” a sentiment he shared regarding the House version as well.

He urged both Gardner and Bennet to vote against the bill.

“It makes even deeper cuts to health care for the most vulnerable and shifts the costs onto hard working middle class Coloradans,” Hickenlooper said. “It’s no surprise that a bill drafted in secret, without public hearings and scrutiny, and planned for a rushed vote within days, will hurt Coloradans.”

Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., continued to call the Republican health care plans “a tax cut for billionaires,” and Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., said that “people will die” because of their plans.

"It essentially looks like the House bill to me, and I think that this is going to be devastating for millions of Americans," DeGette told Denver7. "And I think that people will die."

Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., says he believes the House and Senate Republican bills “are improving a broken health care system” that he says is currently in a “death spiral.”

He also said that he wants the legislation to better protect people with pre-existing conditions, so “that the most vulnerable in our society receive coverage and at the same time that we don’t bankrupt our country with a broken system like we have right now.”

Though more analysis is still needed, there has been some details that have come out of the bill so far Thursday.

The Senate’s version, as is, would allow states that expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act to be funded until 2021. It would then phase out over the following three years. The House version ended the enhanced funding in 2020.

But it keeps House language that fixes the amount of money each state gets each year based on those states’ enrollment figures, and the fixed amount would be tied to standard inflation starting in 2025, which may make the pool smaller than if rates were tied to medical inflation.

The Senate’s bill also keeps the premium subsidies implemented in the Affordable Care Act, in which the government subsidizes some of the costs of coverage in order to keep plans affordable for people, especially those with low incomes. Some subsidies were also used to supplement deductibles and co-payments. Those will go away altogether by 2019.

But the threshold will be lowered from those earning 400 percent of the poverty level to those earning 350 percent of it, which will squeeze out some people. Some people living below the poverty level would receive new subsidized plans in states that haven’t expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

The Senate bill also cuts funding to Planned Parenthood for a year, as did the House bill.

It also looks to stabilize insurance markets across the country by providing more money for cost-sharing through next year, something that insurance companies have complained about, saying that larger insurers and small insurers haven’t shared equal costs under the ACA.

The cost-sharing has been the prime reason for many insurance companies to raise their rates each year or drop out of state marketplaces altogether.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said Thursday that it expects to release a score of the Senate’s bill sometime “early next week.”

Some Republicans have threatened to vote against the bill, though it’s unclear if those threats will hold water or if they are attempts to get the bill changed further.

Under the assumption all Democrats and independents, who align with Senate Democrats, vote against the bill no matter what, three Republicans would have to vote against the bill to stop it for the time being. If only two vote against it, Vice President Mike Pence could cast a tiebreaking vote.

The Daily Beast reported Thursday afternoon that three Republican senators had already committed to opposing this version of the bill: Kentucky's Rand Paul, Wisconsin's Ron Johnson and Utah's Mike Lee, who had also said Tuesday he was frustrated that he hadn't seen a text version of the bill despite being part of the working groups.

McConnell has said that he expects to vote on the bill before the July 4 holiday recess, though Democrats have already made it known they will try and push a vote back.

Should the Senate pass its version, the legislation heads back to the House to see if the chambers will combine their bills moving forward, or if one of the bills will be scrapped altogether.

Further reaction from Colorado’s leaders and health care groups will be posted here as we update this story.

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