by Jim McLean, Kansas News Service
U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran’s silence Thursday on the GOP’s revised bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act prompted one Capitol Hill reporter to refer to him as a “mystery man.”
Several Republican senators who either opposed or had concerns about an initial draft of the bill commented on changes unveiled Thursday by GOP leaders in an effort to gain votes.
But not Moran.
In response to emails, a spokesperson in his office said only that the senator was analyzing the changes “to fully understand the impact on Kansas.”
Moran, a usually reliable GOP vote, surprised many in late June when he announced his opposition to the initial ACA repeal bill. Now, stakeholders on both sides of the health care debate are anxiously waiting for him to take a position on the revised bill.
Kansans opposed to the measure are urging him to stand firm.
“The bottom line is that the changes Senate leadership made to the BCRA (Better Care Reconciliation Act) do little to alleviate the harm the plan will wreak on Kansas,” said David Jordan, executive director of the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas, an advocacy group formed by several Kansas health foundations.
The changes make the bill worse for Kansans suffering from serious health problems, said Hilary Gee, a state lobbyist for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.
“Particularly alarming is the Cruz amendment, which could lead to the rollback of all kinds of patient protections, including essential health benefits and guaranteed issue to people with pre-existing conditions,” Gee said, referring to an amendment authored by Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.
The Cruz amendment, added to make the bill more attractive to conservatives, would allow insurance companies to offer cheaper but less comprehensive coverage as long as at least one plan provides the essential health benefits now required by the ACA.
Sheldon Weisgrau, a health policy consultant for the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas, said it doesn’t appear that changes made to the bill address Moran’s concerns about coverage for pre-existing conditions and the impact of proposed Medicaid cuts on rural hospitals and clinics. Moran detailed those concerns last week at a jammed town hall meeting in western Kansas.
“So I’m hoping that when Senator Moran looks at this bill, he will see that it doesn’t address the issues that he said he was concerned with and hope that he would continue with his opposition,” Weisgrau said.
Kansas’ other member of the U.S. Senate, Republican Pat Roberts, reaffirmed his support of the bill Thursday.
“Kansans are losing choices in care, and their costs and premiums are still rising. If we are going to finally reverse the damage of Obamacare — we must act,” Roberts said in a statement posted to his website.
“Since the first draft was released, as a member of the Senate Finance Committee, I have continued working with Senate leadership to make further improvements to lower the cost of care, ensure Kansans have more coverage options, and to support providers in rural areas,” he said.
Among other things, Roberts said the bill contains money to help struggling hospitals in Kansas the other 18 states that haven’t expanded their Medicaid programs.
Kansas lawmakers passed legislation this session to expand Medicaid coverage to approximately 150,000 low-income adults earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, but Republican Gov. Sam Brownback vetoed the bill.
Former Kansas governor and U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius also weighed in on the debate. In a Thursday appearance on a podcast produced by the left-leaning Center for American Progress, Sebelius said allowing states to determine what Medicaid services to offer while providing them with less money would result in wholesale cuts in care for the nation’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens.
“I think it’s a moral outrage,” Sebelius said.
Jim McLean is managing director of the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio and KMUW covering health, education and politics. You can reach him on Twitter @jmcleanks. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to kcur.org.