Thursday, May 4, 2017

Lamborn votes 'yes' on GOP health care bill as constituents storm local office

Posted By on Thu, May 4, 2017 at 2:43 PM

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News outlets are reporting that Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives just passed a revised version of the the American Health Care Act (ACHA), legislation designed to repeal and replace Obamacare. This has been the GOP's stated priority for seven years now, but they've so far failed to accomplish it since taking over the federal government in January.

Until March, it was unclear what Republicans were actually proposing in lieu of Democrat's landmark health care reform. The public finally got specifics when Speaker of the House Paul Ryan trotted out the first version of ACHA. In brief, the bill would replace the "individual mandate" with "continuous coverage incentive," make tax credits based on age not income, and turn Medicaid reimbursements into a block grant program while cutting off enrollment. It would also cut $883 billion worth of taxes, mostly for the wealthy. For more detail, check out this explainer by Vox's Sarah Kliff. Ultimately, the Speaker failed to round up enough votes so President Donald Trump asked the bill be pulled.

Since that failure, drafters have made a number of revisions.

Recall from the Indy's previous reporting that the public didn't like that the original bill nixed the Obamacare provision outlawing discrimination based on pre-existing condition in favor of "high-risk pools," which Republicans insisted would be just fine for patients with costly health issues (a claim disputed by those who'd be affected). The revised bill now contains an amendment that states, "nothing in this Act shall be construed as permitting insurers to limit access to health coverage for individuals with pre-existing conditions." But, according to PolitiFact, health policy experts say the amendment would make premiums unaffordable for these patients because even though insurers couldn't deny them coverage outright, they would have the ability to set premiums based on "health status."

The arrangement lets the President go on CBS Face the Nation to declare that "pre-existing conditions are in the bill," a plus for Republicans in purple states, while actually forcing people with expensive health needs to shoulder the entire cost themselves. (Reminder that forcing sicker people to pay more for health care is one of the problems Obamacare was designed to fix.)

The amendment would also let states opt out of the "essential health benefits" requirement, which ensures any product called "healthcare" cover services like maternity and mental health care.

Then, on Wednesday, Republicans adopted another amendment that would offer $8 billion more to fund the high-risk pools, bringing total funding there to $138 billion, according to the New York Times. That pot of money would be doled out as subsidies to high-risk enrollees with exorbitant premiums, but the Center for American Progress found the final funding amount falls at least $200 billion short of what's needed to modestly subsidize even a conservatively calculated high-risk pool.

Our own Congressman Doug Lamborn voted "yes" on the bill. On his Facebook page Thursday morning, he linked to a White House press release touting a recent Wall Street Journal Op-Ed accusing liberals of creating a "panic" over the pre-existing condition issue.

Lamborn spokesperson Jarred Rego relayed this statement from the Congressman after votes were cast:

“I have kept my promise to replace Obamacare with a patient-centered plan that reduces government control, lowers costs, and increases the health care choices available to the American people. The AHCA has improved over the last month. The Freedom Caucus has worked with the moderate Tuesday Group to forge a compromise that will lower premiums and increase the flexibility of individual states to manage their health care decisions. Additionally, I personally negotiated with House Leadership to fix an error that locked veterans into the VA health system and prevented them from accessing the benefits of the AHCA. Securing this important victory for our veterans allowed me to support the bill.

With this vote, we have ended the individual mandate, blocked federal funding from going to Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers, phased out Medicaid expansion, reduced regulations and taxes, and gutted Obamacare. I hope that the Senate is able to build upon the good work done by the House and deliver a strong bill to the President. By standing with President Trump, Vice President Pence, and Health and Human Services Secretary Price, I have voted to move us forward to a future of improved health care access and affordability for all Americans.”

A number of the Congressman's constituents do not appreciate his stance. There's a small group that gathered outside his office in protest Thursday morning, and, as we've reported, many others who have been leaving voicemails, writing letters and organizing to replace him in 2018.

Organizer of the demonstration, Sherrie Smith, says earlier this week an office staffer told her Lamborn would vote "no" unless an issue pertaining to veterans' health care was fixed. The issue stems from a provision in the bill that would essentially forbid veterans from "double-dipping" by stipulating that retired service members only qualify for tax credits under ACHA if they're not eligible for any other government healthcare, i.e., through Veterans Affairs. In effect, the provision would force thousands of veterans into a VA system that's already notoriously overburdened and underperforming, according to veterans groups including VoteVets. On Thursday morning, Smith, wife of a disabled vet, was part of a cohort of protesters that made their way into their Congressman's local office. She says that there, a staffer told her that, no, the issue hasn't been fixed, but, yes, Lamborn will still vote for it.

"I flipped out and stormed out," she told the Indy by phone. "They lied to my face." Smith is worried her husband, a veteran of the Iraq war with worsening neck and back injuries, will face even longer wait times if even more veterans are unwillingly funneled into the ill-equipped VA system. "Last time he made an appointment in December and didn't get in until the end of March. Some people die waiting for appointments. So what's going to happen when even more people need appointments and no ones doing anything to fix it?"

Here's more of the scene at the office Thursday morning, via activist Amy Gray:

The ACHA dissenters may be in the minority in El Paso County, where a majority voted for Trump, but they're in the majority nationwide. The bill now up for a vote in the Senate is disliked by most Americans, according to a Quinnipiac poll released March 23 that found only 17 percent of voters support the Republican plan to replace Obamacare. According to NPR, nearly every major medical group opposes the bill, too, including the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association and the AARP, a retiree's lobby, among others.

The bill now heads to the Senate which is also controlled by Republicans. Any changes it undergoes in that chamber will have to be approved by the House before heading to the President's desk.

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