Louisiana lawmakers, activists urge Sens. Cassidy and Kennedy to condemn Senate health care bill


Gov. John Bel Edwards said the bill "specifically disadvantages" Louisiana. - CHERYL GERBER
  • Gov. John Bel Edwards said the bill "specifically disadvantages" Louisiana.

With the release of a 142-page draft early Thursday morning, the Senate finally revealed its much-anticipated (and, by many, dreaded) plan that could make good on the long-term Republican promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), aka Obamacare.

The bill's release offered the first opportunity for the public — and many underinformed senators — to view and critique the Senate's plan, called the Better Care Reconciliation Act. Before its reveal, the bill already had come under fire for an unusually secretive drafting process featuring no public hearings and little debate on the Senate floor.

Within its text: higher premiums for older people, the elimination of the individual and employer mandates (you won't have to carry insurance, and employers don't have to provide it for you), a year-long freeze on Planned Parenthood funding, fewer subsidies to help people buy insurance and cuts to federal Medicaid dollars which support the working poor, 40 percent of American children and people with disabilities. (An easy-to-read breakdown is being updated at The Washington Post.)

Throughout the state, a chorus of lawmakers, public health observers and activists have begun to speak out against this health care plan. But the power lies with Louisiana Sens. Bill Cassidy and John Neely Kennedy, who will now turn their attentions to the legislation ahead of a potential vote next week.

Perhaps due to the bill's length and complexity, they have yet to comment extensively on the bill's details. Instead, they've leaned on familiar rhetoric from the past several weeks.

A news release from Cassidy Thursday morning praised the bill for including aspects of his own Patient Freedom Act, including the elimination of the mandate for employers of a certain size to offer health insurance.

"I will study the bill to determine whether it fulfills President Trump's campaign promises to lower premiums, maintain coverage and protect those with preexisting conditions," Cassidy vowed. (This is pretty much the same thing he said on the Senate floor earlier this month.) According to his Twitter account, he's making the rounds of the news morning shows Friday to discuss the bill.

Kennedy also stuck to generalities. In social media posts, he said he'd look through the bill this weekend in hopes of "fix[ing] the unmitigated disaster that is Obamacare." (He did tell The New York Times he was encouraged by the bill's cuts to Medicaid funding.) He pledged to work through the holiday recess if necessary.

While Kennedy and Cassidy deliberate, Democratic lawmakers, public health observers and activists wasted no time in condemning the bill.

Gov. John Bel Edwards, who joined a bipartisan coalition of six governors in a letter calling for a more transparent writing process, said the bill "specifically disadvantages" Louisiana.

"The working poor, disabled and elderly appear to shoulder the burden in this latest version of Congress' health care rewrite. This is a step backwards for cost, coverage and care," he said in a statement. "Most notably, [the bill] dismantles Medicaid and will leave the 428,000 working poor in Louisiana who are covered under the expansion with nowhere to turn." (Edwards approved the ACA-connected Medicaid expansion in 2016.)

Mayor Mitch Landrieu echoed Edwards' sentiment, and said the secretive bill-writing process should "scare every American." In a news release, he said 51,000 people in New Orleans, including parents and seniors, could be negatively impacted if the bill becomes law.

U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-New Orleans), who heads the Congressional Black Caucus, borrowed Trumpian language for his own statement.

"“This bill is simply another bad deal for the American people. It is bad for families, it is bad for seniors, and it is bad for our economy," he said. "We cannot afford this heartless healthcare plan that is even more malicious than the proposal that the President himself described as ‘mean.'"

The public policy research group Louisiana Budget Project called on Cassidy to refuse to support the bill. Per its own analysis, the bill's proposed Medicaid caps could cause 121,600 people to lose access to Medicaid, and its changes to tax credit and cost-sharing provisions would raise premiums for people who buy insurance through the state's health care exchanges. The organization urged Cassidy to wait for a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) score for the bill before pledging his vote, and said the bill does not pass Cassidy's own "Kimmel test."

In addition to rejecting cuts to its own funding, the Planned Parenthood organization criticized the bill's changes to essential health benefits protections. Under the bill, states could waive rules which currently require insurers to cover services such as maternity care and mental health care with their policies.

At the both the local and national grassroots level, activity began to heat up. Members of the nationwide progressive organization Indivisible rallied outside Cassidy's offices throughout Louisiana Thursday as part of a "Do No Harm" rally. At his Metairie office, group members offered testimonials to Cassidy staffers on how the ACA had changed their lives.

In Washington, D.C., dramatic photos emerged as people using wheelchairs were ejected from a health care-related protest outside Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's office Thursday morning.

And even former President Barack Obama, long understood to be averse to re-entering the political fray, took to Facebook to speak out in defense of his signature legislative accomplishment and against the Senate's plan.

"[This legislation] would raise costs, reduce coverage, roll back protections, and ruin Medicaid as we know it. That’s not my opinion, but rather the conclusion of all objective analyses, from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, which found that 23 million Americans would lose insurance, to America’s doctors, nurses, and hospitals on the front lines of our health care system," he wrote.

"Simply put, if there’s a chance you might get sick, get old, or start a family — this bill will do you harm."

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