Tester, Bullock blast GOP health care bill; Daines, Gianforte hold back critique

 

Sen. Jon Tester

Two members of Montana’s congressional adopted a “read and see” approach to the U.S. Senate’s proposed Obamacare repeal bill Thursday, while the third – Democratic Sen. Jon Tester – came out swinging.

“After no public input, this bill emerged from the shadows – where it was written in secret – with a warning label for rural America,” Tester said. “It will rip away Medicaid from thousands of Montanans, impose an age tax on folks in their 50s and 60s, make it harder to get coverage if you have a pre-existing condition like high blood pressure, all while cutting taxes for corporations and the extremely wealthy.”

Tester, who will hold a town hall on the future of health care Saturday in Great Falls, repeatedly spoke out against the secret process that led to the GOP bill. Republican leaders want the Senate to vote on the bill, without committee hearings, next week.

“We need to take steps to make health care more accessible and affordable for every Montanan,” Tester said after spending the morning reading the GOP bill. “But this bill will leave thousands of Montanans without health care and doesn’t address rising costs.”

Tester’s town hall is set for 6:30-9:30 p.m. Saturday at 501 Bay Drive in Great Falls.

“Montanans deserve a voice in this process, and that’s why I’m holding this town hall,” the senator said. “I want to hear from my bosses, the people of Montana, about what they like and don’t like about this legislation.”

Over the last seven months, Tester has held more than a dozen health-care listening sessions and in-person town halls across Montana. He has also collected stories from hundreds of Montanans about what’s at risk as Congress works to repeal the Affordable Care Act. He began sharing those stories online this week, in protest of the secret bill-writing process.

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Montana Republican Sen. Steve Daines also criticized the secrecy earlier, and promised to make the bill immediately available to Montanans – once he received a copy. That happened on Thursday, and Daines posted the text of the bill on his websiteFacebook and Twitter.

Sen. Steve Daines

“I’m glad to see the draft text of the bill made public for everyone to see,” Daines said. “I look forward to hearing directly from Montanans on this legislation, including the 17th tele-town hall I’ll be hosting next Wednesday.”

This year, Daines has only held “virtual” town halls, not in-person events.

He’ll discuss the Senate health-care bill during the June 28 event, which starts at 6:15 p.m. To participate, text SenatorDaines (as one word) to 828282 or call one of his offices to register.

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Rep. Greg Gianforte

The state’s newest congressman, Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte also received a copy of the Senate bill on Thursday and issued this statement:

“I look forward to studying this bill and receiving input from Montanans on its impact. I believe Obamacare needs to be repealed and replaced but my support for any health care reform is based on protecting Montanans with pre-existing conditions, lowering premiums, and preserving rural access.”

Gianforte was sworn in on Wednesday.

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Gov. Steve Bullock also entered the fray Thursday, calling the legislation “exactly what’s wrong with Washington, D.C.”

Gov. Steve Bullock

The Democrat issued this statement: “Drafted in secret without bipartisan support or public input, this bill will threaten the health of hard-working Montana families in order to cut taxes for the wealthy. Forcing a dangerous and costly health care bill like this one onto Americans isn’t making our health care system better  — it’s hurting those who need it most.”

Bullock has repeatedly called for a bipartisan approach to improving America’s health-care system. In a letter sent last week to the Senate, Bullock along with six other governor outlined guiding principles to ensure quality health insurance is available and affordable for every American.

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The Senate bill released Thursday follows passage of a distinct bill in the House earlier this year.

According to Reuters, the Senate bill would phase out Obamacare’s expansion of the Medicaid program for the poor more gradually than the House version, waiting until after the next presidential election in 2020, but would enact deeper cuts starting in 2025. It would also allow states to add work requirements for some of the 70 million Americans who depend on the program.

The legislation also provides more generous tax subsidies than the House bill to help low-income people buy private insurance.

Those subsidies would be based on income, rather than the age-based subsidies contained in the House bill – a “major improvement,” according to Republican Senator Susan Collins, a key moderate who has expressed concern over the bill’s impact on the poor.

The Senate legislation provides less money, however, for the opioid epidemic, allocating $2 billion in 2018, compared with $45 billion over 10 years in the House version.

Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell arrives at the U.S. Capitol on the day Senate Republican leaders unveil a draft bill on health care in Washington. (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

Both versions would repeal the 3.8 percent net investment income tax on high earners, a key target for Republicans.

They also would repeal a penalty imposed on large employers that do not provide insurance to their workers, and remove the fine that Obamacare imposes on those who choose to go uninsured.

Policy experts said that would keep more young, healthy people out of the market and likely create a sicker patient pool.

The Senate bill would provide money to stabilize the individual insurance market, allotting $15 billion a year in 2018 and 2019 and $10 billion a year in 2020 and 2021.

It proposes defunding Planned Parenthood for a year, but abortion-related restrictions are less stringent than the House version because of uncertainty over whether they would comply with Senate rules. They could be included in another Senate bill.

Reuters contributed information in this report regarding details of House Republicans’ health care bill.