Welch: Expedited repeal of Obamacare ‘an unprecedented breach’

U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., says Republicans are expediting the repeal of Obamacare in the House and he describes the fast track approvals as an “unprecedented breach of any kind of legislative process.”

Within days of its release, two panels last week approved the House GOP’s American Health Care Act. Welch says there was very little legislative review and the bills passed out of committee with no Democratic support.

Welch is a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, one of the two House committees that has considered the Republican proposal. Both House Energy and the Ways and Means committees approved the bill before the Congressional Budget Office released a blistering report at the end of last week estimating that 24 million Americans would lose health insurance if the American Health Care Act is enacted.

In a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Welch said he had virtually no time to review the bill before the Energy and Commerce hearing began. Members of Congress did not receive details about the complexities of the plan. No witnesses were called for guidance.

Peter Welch

Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt. Photo by Elizabeth Hewitt/VTDigger

“The good news here,” Welch concluded, “is that we have a real shot at killing this bill.”

“When the opponents of Obamacare — who voted to repeal it 70 times or so — actually had to come up with a replacement — and had to put pen to paper — all hell was going to break loose,” Welch said. “And it did.”

A number of the bill’s provisions have been criticized by moderate Republicans. Of chief concern is the planned sunset of the federal Medicaid expansion in 2020, a program that has enabled millions of Americans to obtain subsidized insurance policies in both red and blue states.

There is also unease about the Congressional Budget Office report, which estimates that premiums for elderly Americans would rise substantially.

“I’m seeing an awful lot of anxiety on the part of many Republicans,” Welch said.

The Vermont Agency of Human Services announced last week that the congressional plan could cost the state $200 million a year in federal funding starting in late 2019.

A day earlier, Vermont’s largest insurance company and the association representing the state’s 14 hospitals came out against the replacement plan.

Tom Huebner, the CEO and president of Rutland Regional Medical Center, estimates that the number of insured Vermonters could drop from 98 percent to 85 percent.

About 20,000 Vermonters obtain health insurance through the Medicaid expansion program under Obamacare and could lose coverage under the Republican plan. Huebner said another 40,000 residents could be priced out of coverage as subsidies disappear.

Huebner said if the funding cuts in the Republican plan are enacted, hospitals would likely have to either reduce the quality of care or increase prices.

“This would hit the pocket books of Vermonters in a very real way,” Huebner said.

Dr. John Brumsted, the CEO of the University of Vermont Medical Center, said the American Health Care Act would create more barriers to quality care and, in turn, would result in fewer Vermonters taking preventative measures that reduce cost and improve outcomes.

“In human terms, this means that people are really going to suffer,” Brumstead said. “They aren’t going to get the care that they need early in the process.”

Welch said congressional action should focus on fixing the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

Asked what Obamacare remedies Congress should pursue, Welch said the government should help stabilize markets in so-called “risk corridors.” The ACA, as passed, set up a three-year subsidy program to help health insurance companies offset the cost of setting up new markets across the country.

The startup costs were much more expensive than imagined, and the subsidy program was gutted in 2015 by Republicans in Congress, led by U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. The lack of payments have left insurance companies reeling, and have weakened insurance markets.

Welch said federal support could stabilize ailing insurance markets, and he dinged Rubio for gutting the provision.

Welch pointed to his recent White House meeting with President Donald Trump, which focused on lowering prescription drug prices, as another potential way to lower insurance costs for Americans.

“This is a constant project, and we’ve got to be all in,” Welch said.

Welch said he and his Democratic colleagues on the House Energy panel are asking the committee chairman to invite Congressional Budget Office Director Keith Hall for another hearing on the American Health Care Act.

The Republican health care bill must now pass out of both the House Budget and Rules committees before it receives a chamberwide vote. If approved, it will move to the Senate.

Jasper Craven

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