Sen. Maria Cantwell Vows to Use ‘Every Tool We Have’ to Stop GOP Health-Care Plan

By:  Jim Brunner
Source: The Seattle Times

U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell joined doctors and patients at Virginia Mason Medical Center on Friday to blast the newly unveiled Senate Republican health-care bill’s steep cuts to Medicaid.

The Senate plan, like the bill passed earlier this year by the U.S. House, would roll back the expansion of Medicaid, the federal-state health insurance program for poor and disabled people, while cutting taxes for the wealthy.

“My colleagues in the U.S. Senate on the Republican side of the aisle have been trying to write a health-care bill in the dark,” Cantwell said, referring to the legislation crafted by a select group of GOP lawmakers and kept secret until this week. “We want people to stop and look at what the impacts would be.”

In Washington state, 600,000 people have received medical coverage under the Medicaid expansion, as part of the 2009 Affordable Care Act (ACA), or Obamacare. The Senate Republican plan would end federal money to fund that expansion by 2020, leaving states to pick up the cost or end coverage for millions.

Cantwell said she and fellow Democrats will use “every tool we have” to halt the GOP plan, which could be voted on by next week.

Dr. Ben Danielson, senior medical director at Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic in Seattle, which serves mostly Medicaid patients, mocked the priorities of the Republican legislation.

“I have to start off by, I guess, first congratulating all of the millionaires on the incredible gift that they are about to get. I always wondered what you get for the person who has everything, and now I know: It’s cutting benefits to young children, poor families, the infirm, the elderly,” Danielson said.

The pushback was part of a national effort by Democrats to drive opposition to the GOP bill, which also would create a new system of tax credits to help people purchase health insurance, while allowing states to drop many benefits required by Obamacare, such as maternity care and mental-health treatment.

Gov. Jay Inslee also attacked the Senate Republican proposal, writing in an online post that Medicaid-funded ACA services help more than 32,000 people with developmental disabilities and 65,000 low-income seniors and vulnerable adults.

“The Republican proposal would take away services from more than 25 percent of these men and women, eliminating the support services that help them find employment, secure safe housing or assisted-living care, and other day-to-day support,” Inslee wrote.

All of Washington’s Democratic members of Congress have opposed the Republican efforts to repeal major portions of Obamacare. Republican Reps. Dave Reichert, R-Auburn, and Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Vancouver, also voted against the House version of the health-care bill.

Reichert has been noncommital on the Senate Republican proposal, but critical of rising insurance costs under the ACA.

In a statement Thursday, he said he was reviewing the new bill, but said “it is clear our current health-care system is not living up to its promises.” He pointed to insurers bailing on the individual-insurance market, and to premiums in Washington state potentially rising by an average of more than 20 percent next year.

“This is not a status-quo we can accept. Congress must work to fix this broken system, but we must do it while protecting the most vulnerable in our communities, including children on Medicaid, people with pre-existing conditions, and older Americans,” Reichert said.

Joining Cantwell and medical leaders Friday was George Poston, 63, who said he lost his job and health coverage after 33 years as a chef. He developed life-threatening blood clots and faced large medical bills, but was able to gain coverage due to the Medicaid expansion.

“I barely had the energy to walk into the next room, let alone get a new job,” Poston said. “I and others like me, people on fixed incomes, with health issues that are too young for Medicare, face dire consequences without Medicaid.”