By Briana Vannozzi
The day started with a series of frustrated tweets and an ultimatum from the president: Vote on the health care bill or Obamacare stays. Late last night congressional leaders made yet another amendment hoping to appeal to the conservative House Freedom Caucus. This time it was to strip the so called “Essential Health Benefits” from the bill. But that left even more votes in limbo. One by one, New Jersey’s Republican delegation announced they’d be checking the “no” box — even after months of hard line positions.
Rep. Frank Pallone said, “The reason for that is because the bill started out badly, and it’s just getting worse every day with the changes that they make.”
Pallone took a moment to speak with us today from the House floor while leading the debate as the ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee.
He said, “It’s a disaster for the health care system and for the public, because a lot more people will lose insurance and be uninsured. A lot more people are going to pay more, if they can even get coverage.”
The health care program director of NJ Citizen Action, Maura Collinsgru, said, “What they’ve done in essence, is strip basically all of the protections that the Affordable Care Act has given. When you make it optional what you cover, and then tell people they’re getting a better deal because they’ll pay less, it’s really a shell game.”
The new provision means health plans would no longer be required to cover things like maternity care, prescription drugs, behavioral health and outpatient services. At a health care forum held by NJ Spotlight today, some of New Jersey’s top stakeholders sounded off on potential implications of the new bill.
Executive director of Better Choices, Better Care NJ, Christine Stearns, said, “If you look at the polls, people either support the ACA because it provided accessibility. You look at those who oppose it, they are concerned about the affordability. It’s sort of a glass half full half empty situation.”
Senior Policy Analyst Ray Castro of New Jersey Policy Perspective said, “We’re concerned about block granting the entire Medicaid program. We’re even more concerned that they want to accelerate the repeal of Medicaid expansion and New Jersey would have such an impact– we have half a million people in our state. About 10 percent of all adults in New Jersey get their health care from the Medicaid expansion.”
“The bill does contain a move to a Medicaid per capita cap which means the state of New Jersey will get one lump sum to care for every Medicaid recipient in the state. It’s a huge cost shift from the federal government onto the state government, totaling $88 billion according to CBO. We in the provider community are concerned that that then will be cost shifted onto us,”said Betsey Ryan president of New Jersey Hospital Association.
A report from the Congressional Budget Office reasserted its position that the bill had more problems than it solved.
Heather Howard, former state health commissioner, said, “The CBO basically said that this law would mean 24 million people would lose health insurance. And in New Jersey that would mean probably 500,000 people who would lose insurance, so a pretty dramatic impact. But it also highlighted that the subsidies that would help people buy insurance would be less expansive, meaning people would have less money to buy health insurance and that’s particularly acute in New Jersey where costs are so high.”
Even if the bill went for a vote today, it would have faced an uphill battle in the Senate where Sen. Bob Menendez called it dead on arrival.
“That’s not because I won’t support it. That’s because my fellow Republicans, a good six to 10 of them, have said that as it is they will not vote for it,” said Menendez.
Late this afternoon both Speaker Paul Ryan and President Trump held separate press conferences where they called today’s actions a disappointment saying they were close with the votes, but conceded Obamacare remains the law for the foreseeable future.