The billions of dollars in cuts to Medicaid proposed in Senate Republicans’ latest and perhaps final attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act would be devastating to children across Washington, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell said Friday.
Named after its lead sponsors, Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, the repeal bill would end the ACA’s Medicaid expansion, which has provided insurance to about 600,000 people in Washington. It would also end the federal subsidies that help people buy private insurance.
The bill would instead take that money and distribute it to states via block grants to set up their own health-care systems with few requirements for how to do so.
The bill’s chances of passage took a serious blow Friday when Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., announced his opposition.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has not had enough time to issue a full review of the legislation, but other analyses are all but unanimous that it would result in major cuts, both in funding and in health coverage.
Those cuts would be most severe in states like Washington that expanded Medicaid and have been successful in getting people to sign up for insurance.
If Graham-Cassidy passes and becomes law, Washington would lose $10 billion in federal funding for health care — mostly for Medicaid — between 2020 and 2026, according to a study by Avalere, a health-care consulting firm. Washington would lose an additional $7 billion in 2027, when the block grants to states would disappear if not reauthorized by Congress, according to the study.
“Medicaid literally is a lifeline and saves lives,” Cantwell, a Democrat, said Friday at International Community Health Services’ Holly Park Clinic, a low-income clinic in south Seattle where 60 percent of patients get care through Medicaid. “We need a robust Medicaid program that is not capped, that is not block-granted, that its money is not used for other things by states.”
Cantwell was joined by Jazmin Williams, 31, of Seattle, whose 7-year-old daughter, Kyra, was diagnosed last spring with a brain condition caused by abnormal blood vessel growth. The condition causes strokelike seizures, speech loss and motion loss in the right side of her body, Williams said.
Apple Health, as Medicaid is called in Washington, has paid for her care, including a neurosurgeon at Seattle Children’s hospital and a radiologist at Harborview, Williams said.
Without Apple Health, a procedure Kyra had over the summer would have cost twice what Williams makes a year working in patient services at Seattle Reproductive Medicine, she said.
“This little girl is who that repeal is going to affect,” Williams said, holding a picture of Kyra and fighting back tears. “Taking it away, I’m not going to have the money to take her to the hospital, I’m not going to have the money to pay for her procedures.”
With Democrats voting in lockstep against pushes to repeal the law known as Obamacare, Republicans can afford to lose only two senators if the bill is to pass. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., had earlier announced his opposition, while Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, have voted against other repeal efforts.
Republican supporters have argued that block-granting money to states would give them the flexibility to come up with their own plans not dictated by officials in Washington, D.C.
On Friday the Community Health Network of Washington and the Washington Association of Community and Migrant Health Centers, which represent more than 250 clinics in Washington, denounced the Graham-Cassidy bill as “an attack on the low-income patients they serve.”
On Wednesday, Gov. Jay Inslee and state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler wrote a letter to Washington’s congressional delegation urging them to reject the bill. They cited a study by the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, estimating that the bill would result in 32 million fewer Americans having health insurance in 2027, including more than 650,000 who would lose coverage in Washington.
“In many ways, this effort is more damaging than earlier proposals,” Inslee and Kreidler wrote. “It decimates Medicaid, seriously diminishes coverage and exposes people with pre-existing conditions to huge premium increases.”
A study by the University of Southern California and the Brookings Institution, released Friday, estimated that 15 million people would lose coverage by 2019 if the bill passes, and 32 million would lose coverage in 2027.
Sen. Patty Murray was leading bipartisan talks aimed at improving Obamacare, but those were scuttled this week as Republicans made their latest effort at repeal.
“I’m still at the table ready to keep working,” Murray, D-Wash., said after McCain announced his opposition to Graham-Cassidy. “I remain confident that we can reach a bipartisan agreement as soon as this latest partisan approach by Republican leaders is finally set aside.”