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Covering state lawmakers, bills, and policy emerging from Jefferson City.

After Reversing Stance; Rep. Long, House Approve Healthcare Bill

Billy Long
Scott Harvey

By a narrow margin, the U.S. House of Representatives Thursday approved a measure that would do away with many provisions of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

The Republican-drafted bill passed 217-213, and now moves to the Senate.

Rep. Billy Long is one of those supporters. His vote Thursday comes just two days after the Republican from southwest Missouri said he was against the measure.

He told St. Louis Public Radio Tuesday that he could not support a plan that would let states allow insurance companies to charge higher premiums to people with preexisting conditions.

“So I’m not quite sure why they think my vote’s so important but they’re sure doing a lot of arm twisting but it’s not going to do them any good," said Long.

But by Wednesday morning, his stance had shifted. Long’s office said the promise of a new amendment, which would add funding to the bill’s high risk pools for people with preexisting conditions, is what ultimately changed his mind. Specifically, the bill provides $8 billion for states to set up such pools. Critics say the amount is far too low of what’s needed to guarantee affordable coverage.

In a statement Thursday, Long said House Republicans made good on their promise by passing the American Health Care Act (AHCA).

“With 84 percent of Missouri counties only having one option under the Obamacare exchanges, something had to change. I promised my constituents I would repeal and replace this disastrous law and today I made good on that promise. After seven long years of skyrocketing premiums, limited choices and government overreach, it’s time the American people decide what’s best for them instead of the government,” said Long.

As NPR reports, the bill included last-minute amendments aimed at luring votes from the chamber’s most conservative Republicans in the House Freedom Caucus and its more moderate counterparts.

The bill cuts funding for Medicaid by more than $800 billion. States would be allowed to seek waivers for many of the patient protections in Obamacare, including those provisions intended to help people with pre-existing conditions.

It’s unclear the impact of the bill on citizens, as Thursday’s vote came prior to a review by the Congressional Budget Office, which provides nonpartisan analyses for economic and budget decisions.

The rushed vote drew the ire of Missouri Health Care for All, which said in a statement Thursday that the provisions of the bill would result in millions of people losing their health care.

“This bill would repeal many of the insurance protections of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), such as requiring insurance policies to cover prescriptions or maternity care, and make radical cuts to Medicaid funding.”

The organization calls the Medicaid restructuring within the bill one of the most concerning aspects.

“Under the per capita caps proposed in the bill, the state of Missouri would see deep cuts in federal funding for health care for our most vulnerable neighbors, including children, people with disabilities, and seniors. Per capita caps would put Missourians at risk of devastating outcomes due to lack of health care.”

In a statement, Missouri Democratic Party Chair Stephen Webber said, “Today’s vote to hike costs for older Missourians and gut protections for individuals who’ve been sick before is a betrayal of our working families.” 

Meanwhile Austin Stukins, executive director of the Missouri Republican Party, said Thursday’s vote marks an important step in President Trump and Republican’s promise to repeal Obamacare.

Stukins added, "Now, we look to the Senate to do its part, so we can finally put an end to the Obamacare mandate and its tentacles that are destroying our healthcare system and bankrupting the American people.”

But Missouri’s Democratic U.S. senator, Claire McCaskill, slammed the bill. She says it cuts healthcare protections for Missourians with pre-existing conditions and raises healthcare costs for older citizens.

“I’ve always said we have to make changes to fix the current law, which is why I’ve introduced legislation to tackle prescription drug costs, and support ways to shore-up the individual market. But cutting protections for Missourians who’ve had the nerve to be sick before and have a preexisting health condition, and making older Missourians pay more for their care, isn’t a solution. It’s a disaster for Missouri families,” said McCaskill.

During a conference call with reporters earlier this week, Republican Sen. Roy Blunt suggested that there’s a number of things that can be done without repealing and replacing Obamacare. In a statement to KSMU Thursday, Blunt said the law has failed to live up to its promises, and it "needs to be repealed and replaced."

He continued, "The House took an important step in that direction, and the Senate will continue advancing that effort and working to expand access to quality, affordable health care.”

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