Wyden: Senate GOP plan 'double-down' on House health care overhaul
U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden says he holds out some hope for defeat of the Senate Republican plan to reshape health care without the insurance coverage required by President Barack Obama's signature law.
But Wyden told Oregon reporters Friday (June 23) it will take the voices of older people, children and adults with disabilities — and not just those who benefit from the expansion of coverage under the 2010 law — to muster the few Republicans needed to join Democrats and independents to block it in the Senate.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., wants to put it to a Senate vote before Congress breaks for Independence Day. Assuming a tie-breaker by Vice President Mike Pence, Republicans can afford to lose only two votes.
Wyden said the Senate GOP plan goes beyond the Affordable Care Act to the heart of Medicaid, the joint federal-state program of health insurance for low-income people and others that dates back 50 years.
"The more we can lay out what this actually means for people, the better chance we have to win this. They cannot afford to lose many Senate Republicans and prevail," Wyden said in a conference call.
"This is one of the biggest social battles in its ramifications for Oregon and the country. This is about the well-being of the social safety net and health-care services that are a lifeline to thousands of Oregonians and millions of Americans who walk a tightrope every month."
About 1 million Oregonians are enrolled in the Oregon Health Plan, Oregon's version of Medicaid, which also covers some children and adults with disabilities — and Oregon has expanded the rolls by about 400,000 under the 2010 law. Nationally, 79 million Americans are covered by Medicaid.
Medicaid also supports the lion's share of nursing home care for older people who have spent down their retirement savings and other assets, although Oregon has been a leader among the states on spending on home and community-based alternatives for care.
Oregon lawmakers just completed action on extending taxes on hospitals — and levying taxes on some health plans — to raise just under $600 million to recoup more in federal Medicaid funds in the next two years.
For every $3 raised by the state, $5 is contributed in federal funds. But Wyden said the Senate GOP proposal would cut federal reimbursement by a third.
"What TrumpCare is doing is making it harder for Oregon to maximize the value of its provider tax," Wyden said.
"My view of it is that thousands of Oregonians are going to lose coverage because there will not be the dollars to serve them."
The bill would set a per-capita amount on Medicaid spending, which is now an open-ended entitlement program that covers all eligible people. Combined with President Donald Trump's proposed budget, it would slash $1 trillion over a decade. States would get inflation-adjusted growth, but that rate lags behind medical costs.
Wyden offered a detailed critique during a 22-minute speech Thursday in the Senate chamber after remarks by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and Washington Sen. Patty Murray, the top Democrat on the Senate health committee.
Although Wyden is the top Democrat on the Finance Committee — which writes tax legislation, including how the major federal health programs are funded — McConnell bypassed both committees and tapped 13 Republicans to write the Senate version. All are men.
"What they did was double-down on everything Oregonians have rejected so strongly the first time around," Wyden said. "Senate Republicans are going to keep telling people they are fixing health care right up until the time they steal it, almost like Bonnie and Clyde."
Wyden has talked about a bipartisan approach to changes in the 2010 law, but his tone during the conference call was unyielding to Republicans.
Like its House counterpart (HR 1624), which passed May 4 with only Republican support on a 217-213 vote, the Senate Republican plan does away with taxes added by the 2010 law for individuals earning more than $200,000 and couples more than $250,000.
Under the earlier law, they pay an increased Medicare tax of .9 percent and an additional tax of 3.8 percent on investment income, such as capital gains resulting from the sales of assets such as stock.
Wyden said the Senate version also makes the cuts retroactive to Jan. 1, so tax savings apply to this year. Someone with a $1 million capital gain, he said, stands to get a tax cut of $38,000.
"It is a huge tax windfall for the wealthiest," he said. "It really takes your breath away."
On the other hand, the Senate Republican plan retains what Wyden called an "age tax," which offers people ages 55-64 who make too much to qualify for Medicaid less in the form of tax credits to help them pay for higher premium costs that insurers can charge.
Wyden said someone age 64 could be charged five times more for coverage than someone age 18.
The Affordable Care Act, known as "Obamacare," bars insurers from denying coverage or charging more to people with pre-existing medical conditions.
Both House and Senate Republican versions keep that in name, but they would let states seek waivers from "essential benefits" such as maternity care, mental health or prescription medications — for which insurers could charge extra.
Wyden was the author of the 2010 law's original provision for waivers, which he said allow states such as Oregon to demonstrate they can provide coverage at equal or lesser cost, such as the system of coordinated-care organizations. He said the proposed waivers distort his intent.
"Oregonians do not like it when politicians try to con them," Wyden said. "This proposal by Senate Republicans is a con job for the ages."
Beaverton town hall is set
U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden has held 46 town hall meetings so far this year — his goal is one in each of Oregon's 36 counties — and he plans another one at 2 p.m. July 6 at the Conestoga Recreation and Aquatic Center, 9985 SW 125h Ave., Beaverton.
Adds paragraph about how plan reduces Medicaid growth over a decade combined with presidential budget proposals.