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Senate Republicans on Thursday rolled out a new version of their wildly unpopular Better Care Reconciliation Act, but their second stab at repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act immediately drew sharp criticism from a small business organization and even from some GOP senators.
The Small Business Majority, a group representing 55,000 small business owners, blasted the new bill because it includes a proposal from Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, that allows insurers to sell health plans that don’t comply with the ACA – a move they say would destabilize markets by creating unbalanced risk pools and potentially stripping insurance coverage from 1.5 million people with pre-existing conditions.
“This would make it even harder for those who have health conditions to start new businesses, while entrepreneurs with pre-existing conditions who are already up and running may close up shop because they will no longer be able to afford insurance for themselves,” Small Business Majority Founder & CEO John Arensmeyer said in a release.
The Cruz amendment was seen as a way to win over arch-conservatives who argue the Senate bill doesn’t go nearly far enough in repealing the key components of the ACA, but Arensmeyer says it makes a bad bill worse.
“Businesses with younger or healthier workers might see their costs decrease, but the plans they offer would provide less coverage, putting entrepreneurs and employees in a difficult position if an unexpected medical situation arises,” Arensmeyer said.
U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, a former small business owner and Cortez Republican who represents much of Eagle County, voted for the House version of what’s been dubbed “Trumpcare” when it narrowly passed in May. Many key senators said that bill – the American Health Care Act – was a non-started in the upper chamber.
One of Tipton’s justifications for voting in favor of the AHCA was that the ACA – or “Obamacare” – has been brutal for small businesses in his sprawling district that includes all of the Western Slope of Colorado and parts of southern Colorado.
“The law has also forced many small businesses to cut their employee health insurance benefits,” Tipton writes on his website. “As we continue our work to fix the health care system by repealing and replacing Obamacare, I will support legislation that allows the free market to work and competition to drive down health care costs.”
Any version of the Senate bill that passes must still be reconciled with the House version before heading to President Donald Trump’s desk for a signature.
U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, the only Colorado Republican to vote against the House plan in May (all three Democrats rejected it), now says the Senate is trying to do way too much and has urged the upper chamber to dial back some aspects of the bill and work with Democrats.
“You strip the polarizing things out of it, and say, ‘Look, for this particular piece, let’s negotiate,’” Coffman told Denverite. “I think you could get bipartisan support. Once you strip the politics out of it and say we’ll only arrive at a decision that is bipartisan, then there will be a negotiation.”
Only 12 percent of Americans supported the first Senate version, and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, already has come out against the new version of the bill, saying she’s ready to work with Democrats to fix the ACA. With every Democrat against the bill, Republicans can only afford two defections, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell already appears to have much more opposition than that in his own caucus.
U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, a Colorado Republican who voted for the AHCA, has been urging House Speaker Paul Ryan to keep the lower chamber in session throughout much of the upcoming August recess in order to work on health care and other legislative priorities.
“With several outstanding legislative tasks left unfinished, it would be irresponsible to leave Washington for an entire month,” Buck wrote in an email. “We need to fix America’s healthcare system, reform the tax code, complete a budget, and pass appropriations bills. These tasks matter to Americans. We want affordable health insurance, job creation, economic growth, and federal spending restraint. That’s why Congress should stay in session until we can get something done.”
Apparently, McConnell agrees, announcing on Wednesday that the Senate will work through the first two weeks of the August break.
Democratic Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper on Monday announced his 2013 State of Health program is at risk if the Senate passes its health care bill.
“More Coloradans have access to quality health care than ever before, and this coverage is improving the health of people across our state,” Hickenlooper said in a release. “The Senate bill’s cuts to funding and coverage threaten our progress in all areas. We urge the Senate to work with a bipartisan group of governors to focus on problems we all agree need fixing.”