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JAN13

Repeal Without Replace: Senate Starts Undoing Obamacare With No Replacement

In the wee hours of the morning on Thursday, the Senate took the important first step toward repealing the Affordable Care Act, narrowly approving a budget resolution that lays the groundwork for the undoing of much of President Obama’s signature health care law. The 51-48 vote fell almost entirely along party lines, with Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) being the only Republican to vote against the resolution and no Democrats voting for it. Having passed in the Senate, the budget resolution has been transferred over to the House where it could be voted on as early as this Friday or later, depending on how successful Speaker Ryan is at bringing together an often-fractured House GOP.

If the House passes the Senate resolution, reconciliation instructions will be sent out to the Senate Finance Committee; the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee; and to the House Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce committees. These instructions are designed to get the committees to report legislation that would reduce the federal deficit by at least $1 billion over the next decade. In practice the legislation will be used to repeal certain aspects of the ACA with only a 51-vote majority in the Senate and without having to face the risk of being filibustered by Democrats. This means that the GOP will be able to repeal major provisions of the ACA that affect the federal budget and will have to introduce other legislation to repeal the other provisions, including those that reform health insurance practices.
For people living with or at risk of contracting HIV, the changes that could be made through this reconciliation process will be immense and potentially deadly. Through reconciliation, Congress will be able to repeal the individual mandate to buy coverage, take away the ACA’s insurance premium subsidies and, perhaps worst of all, roll back Medicaid expansion. Medicaid is the single largest source of insurance coverage for people living with HIV, covering more than 40% of all people with HIV who are in care. Add to that the fact that Medicaid expansion by itself was responsible for putting an addition 14 million Americans on health insurance, and it is not hard to understand just how much of an impact this reconciliation process could have on the HIV community.

The Senate vote on the budget resolution was the climax of nearly 7 hours of rapid-fire voting known as “vote-a-rama”, a tradition whereby Senators—in this case, mostly Democrats—are allowed to propose roll call votes on amendments to a budget resolution in quick succession with the aim of getting their colleagues on the record with votes concerning politically volatile issues. On Wednesday night, Democrats put forth a number of amendments regarding some of the popular aspects of Obamacare as both an act of defiance and a way to put pro-repeal Senators on-the-record for the elimination of well received ACA provisions. 

For their part, Republicans in the Senate chose in most instances to vote as a unified block even when such a vote went against the wishes of their constituencies. Over the course of the evening, the Senate rejected 19 different amendments along party lines, many of which would have served to protect access to quality, affordable health care for all Americans. Of particular interest to people living with or at risk for contracting HIV were amendments put forth by Senate Democrats aimed at preventing health insurers from discriminating against people based on pre-existing conditions, allowing children to stay on their parents’ health insurance until the age of 26, prohibiting insurers from denying health insurance or raising rates on women because of their gender, and not making any cuts to Medicaid funding. None of these amendments were accepted, but they did provide good indication of what aspects of the ACA would be vulnerable under a full ACA repeal. 

Perhaps the most important vote of the night—aside from the final approval of the budget resolution—was one that didn’t happen at all. An amendment put forth by Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) and four other GOP Senators that would have extended the January 27th deadline to come up with repeal legislation by an additional 5 weeks was withdrawn late on Wednesday night. The amendment was initially brought up by Senator Corker and some of his Republican colleagues in light of legitimate fears that their party would not have a replacement plan in place when they repealed the ACA. And, while nothing happened over the course of the evening that would have given Senator Corker and his amendment’s supporters reason to believe a replacement plan was any nearer than before, they would all go on to vote in favor of the budget resolution at the end of the night, continuing down a path of repeal without replacement.

Most of America had long since gone to sleep and likely won’t remember when or exactly how it happened, but history with certainly note that, if the Affordable Care Act is indeed dismantled, that Congress began to do so when no one was watching.




Posted By: AIDS United, Policy Department - Friday, January 13, 2017



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