Republican senators could return to Washington next week even more flustered over how their health-care bill would affect their constituents if you consider what they’ve been hearing over the Fourth of July recess. That possibility further darkens the chances that the Senate will actually pass the measure before the long August break.
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) yesterday spoke to patients at a drug recovery center in Cincinnati who would be affected by the bill’s Medicaid cuts. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said she heard glowing praise for her stance opposing the bill because of its cuts. A half-dozen health-care protesters were arrested last night outside an invitation-only town hall meeting held by Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.)
From WITF reporter Katie Meyer:
Protesters from ADAPT blocking doors outside Toomey town hall bldg. Police carried out person, then wheelchair pic.twitter.com/pvAnW49zP2
— Katie Meyer (@katieemeyer4) July 5, 2017
From ABC27 reporter Sari Soffer:
— Sari Soffer (@SariSoffer) July 5, 2017
Most Republicans are avoiding situations where they’d stand in front of constituents and take questions. Just three GOP members of Congress had public town halls scheduled in the month of July, compared to 29 Democrats, according to the Town Hall Project. And even when Republicans have invited feedback about how the Affordable Care Act has affected regular Americans, they’ve not always gotten the response they anticipated. Like on Monday when the Indiana Republican Party wrote a Facebook post asking people to share their “Obamacare horror story.”
“Did you lose a doctor that you liked? Have your premiums increased? Did your insurer leave the exchange? Are burdensome regulations hurting your small business?” the post says. “We were promised Obamacare would make health care cheaper, better, and more available, but in reality it’s turned out to be the opposite. What’s your Obamacare horror story? Let us know.”
More than 9,000 people responded — but most of them had compliments, not criticism. Out of 100 comments The Health 202 read, just four writers were negative about health insurance in the post-ACA world. The rest praised the health-care law for its coverage expansions and slammed Republicans for trying to repeal it.
–“Obamacare arrived just in time to cover my sister, who had recently lost her job, and who need unexpected emergency heart surgery. Thanks for asking!” someone called Peter Hess responded.
–“ACA saves live and Trumpcare will be the #1 killer of Americans makinging Cancer #2.” wrote Alcide Penniman.
–“The horror of O’Care is that selfish, hateful pricks like you keep wanting to yank it from people that need it to fund tax cuts for the wealthy. Republicans are the only Obamacare Horror,” Wally Bee wrote.
The Democratic Party may have actively tried to influence who was commenting, Indiana Republican Party State Chairman Kyle Hupfer suggested to the Indianapolis Star.
“This is what you would expect when Democratic National Committee affiliated groups begin to share the message across social media and ask their folks to engage,” he said. “What we know is that these responses do not represent the majority of Hoosiers who, when asked, time and time again say they want Obamacare repealed.”
While there’s certainly a significant segment of Americans who have found ACA coverage unaffordable, or who were forced to switch their plans or providers, there’s a larger population that benefited from its Medicaid expansion, subsidies, protections for those with preexisting conditions and family coverage for young adults up to age 26. And those beneficiaries are turning out in full force as the Senate tries to close in on enough votes to pass a bill overhauling much of the ACA.
–Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), a conservative who wants the bill to include more opt-out from ACA insurer regulations, told reporters yesterday that consensus is “not there yet.”
“I think we are making significant progress. We are not there yet, but I believe we can get to yes, and I hope, I think we have to get to yes,” Cruz said before a town hall meeting last night.
My colleague Sean Sullivan, who stopped by, reported that Cruz didn’t start talking about Obamacare until nearly an hour into the town hall meeting:
Nearly an hour into Cruz town hall comes first lengthy discussion about Obamacare.
— Sean Sullivan (@WaPoSean) July 5, 2017
–President Trump could help the situation somewhat if Republicans could count on him to defend their votes for the unpopular health-care bill. But the president’s recent chain of tweets blasting the media — including one showing him wrestling CNN — has had the opposite effect, making even conservatives wary of their party’s leader. In his town hall last night, Toomey called Trump’s attacks on media on Twitter a “distraction.”
“I just don’t for the life of me understand why the president wants to engage in that kind of activity. It’s a distraction. It distracts from the president’s agenda,” Toomey said. “It distracts from what we’re trying to do in the Senate… It’s not helpful.”
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AHH, OOF and OUCH
AHH: Bill Cassidy (R-La.) is one of the most interesting senators on health-care policy. He opposes the Senate bill in its current form — but his reasons don’t perfectly align with either the conservative or moderate holdouts. He coined the phrase “Jimmy Kimmel test” referring to the need to protect people with preexisting conditions (like the son of the late-night host who was born with a heart condition). He’s proposed his own replacement to the ACA. And, he’s a liver doctor.
“Cassidy’s experience as a doctor gives him an unusual perspective among politicians when thinking about health care,” my colleague Carolyn Y. Johnson writes. “And the dilemmas states are likely to face if Medicaid’s federal funding is cut are already hitting his state in its decisions on how to treat Medicaid patients with hepatitis C, a liver-ravaging virus for which there are now a handful of very effective, expensive treatments.”
“From his years as a liver doctor, Cassidy knows the tremendous human and financial cost if the virus progresses to the point where a patient needs a transplant,” Carolyn continues. “To Cassidy, it’s important to ensure that future innovations and breakthroughs in medicine will continue. And that gives him serious reservations about a plan his state’s health secretary is mulling: to ask the government to essentially ‘march-in’ on the patents held by drug companies and lower the price of treatment for people covered by Medicaid.”
“My concern about marching-in [on patents] is that we would quell that sort of innovation,” Cassidy said in a recent interview. “I think we would be foolish to think that might not be the case. And once you march-in once, it lowers the threshold to march-in on another, so I’m very concerned about that.”
OOF: The Republican National Committee is out with an ad hitting Democrats for acknowledging problems with the ACA but not proposing bills to fix it (although it should be noted that some Democrats, including Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, have offered some legislative fixes). Footage includes Hillary and Bill Clinton, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) saying the health-care law needs some improvements.
“I’m willing to look at replacing, repairing, doing anything that we can to make it better,” Manchin says. “For years now, we have said we need to make improvements to the Affordable Care Act, to Obamacare,” Warren says.
“Democrats know Obamacare is broken…We have a plan to fix it,” the RNC ad concludes. “Where’s their plan?”
Hillary Clinton responded by tweeting out the health-care proposal she’d floated during her presidential campaign last year:
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) July 5, 2017
OUCH: The opioid epidemic has caused the number of children in foster care to skyrocket, raising more than a quarter in 14 states from New Hampshire to North Dakota. Mother Jones’ Julia Lurie reports on the trend from Ashtabula County, Ohio, where the number of kids in court custody quadrupled from 69 in 2014 to 279 last year.
“The scourge of addiction to painkillers, heroin, and fentanyl sweeping the country has produced a flood of bewildered children who, having lost their parents to drug use or overdose, are now living with foster families or relatives,” Julia writes. “Largely because of the opioid epidemic, there were 30,000 more children in foster care in 2015 than there were in 2012—an 8 percent increase…In Texas, Florida, Oregon, and elsewhere, kids have been forced to sleep in state buildings because there were no foster homes available, says advocacy group Children’s Rights.”
“I can’t remember the last time I removed a kid and it didn’t have to do with drugs,” caseworker Kerri Mongenel told Julia. Mongenel’s clients range from “preschoolers who know to call 911 when a parent overdoses to steely teenagers who cook and clean while Mom and Dad spend all day in the bathroom,” Julia writes. “Often, the kids marvel at how quickly everything changed—how a loving mom could transform, as one teenager put it, into a ‘zombie.'”
–The issue of federal funding for abortions is underlying all the discussions around repealing and replacing the ACA. The Senate bill would strip Medicaid funds from Planned Parenthood, the country’s largest abortion provider, and also restricts federally-subsidized plans from covering abortions (although that language is likely to violate the so-called Byrd rule governing the whole process and is likely to get stripped out). Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona, who chairs the House Pro-Life Caucus, warned that removing any of those restrictions would be a dealbreaker if and when the Senate bill goes back to the House side.
“Republicans don’t believe taking the lives of innocent unborn children should be considered health care…I don’t know that that’s something out of sync with the American people,” Franks told Fox & Friends yesterday. “We can’t continue to subsidize abortion as part of health care. It’s just something that’s not American.”
— Rep. Trent Franks (@RepTrentFranks) July 5, 2017
Keeping the antiabortion provisions in the bill could jeopardize support from Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who support abortion rights. Franks said that because he won’t budge on that issue, “we really don’t have the ability to put something in that would mollify people like Senator Collins and gain her vote.”
Some more good reads from around the Web:
HEALTH ON THE HILL
- HHS Secretary Tom Price is holding an opioid listening session in Chattanooga, Tenn. hosted by Gov. Bill Haslam (R).
- The American Enterprise Institute will hold an event on health savings accounts.
- The National Academy of Medicine will hold an event on “Opportunities for Improving Outcomes, Value, and Health.”
- The Bipartisan Policy Center is holding an event on solutions to long-term care financing on July 11.
- The Hill is hosting an event on “The Cost of Caring: Family Caregivers and Tax Reform,” featuring Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Rep. Dan Donovan (R-N.Y.) and Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-N.M.) on July 13.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) was greeted by a divided audience as he spoke at an Independence Day event:
Protesters flock to Hamburg ahead of G-20 summit:
President Trump arrived in Warsaw with his wife Melania on ahead of the G-20 summit: