Under U.S. Republican bill, 23 million
would lose health coverage: watchdog
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[May 25, 2017]
By Yasmeen Abutaleb
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A bill passed by
U.S. House Republicans would cause 23 million people to lose healthcare
coverage by 2026 while de-stabilizing health insurance markets in some
states and making it hard for sick people to buy insurance, a budget
watchdog agency said on Wednesday.
The Congressional Budget Office, a non-partisan group of experts who
analyze U.S. legislation, said the bill would reduce federal deficits by
$119 billion between 2017 and 2026.
The report could give added ammunition to Democrats who have accused
President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans of putting sick and
low-income people at risk with their effort to roll back former
President Barack Obama's signature 2010 healthcare law, formally known
as the Affordable Care Act but often called Obamacare.
The report also complicates the job of Senate Republicans - some of whom
already have doubts about the House bill - as they craft their own
Republicans have sought to unravel Obamacare since its passage and Trump
promised on the campaign trail to repeal it, saying it is too costly and
an overreach by government in the healthcare market.
As Trump and Republican leaders sought to bring wavering lawmakers on
board with the House bill, they added a controversial last-minute
amendment that would give states leeway to drop an Obamacare requirement
that forces insurers to charge sick and healthy people the same
Another change would allow states to decide whether to require insurers
to cover health benefits such as maternity care and prescription drugs
that are mandatory under current law.
But the CBO report said the amendment would make it difficult or
impossible for people in poor health to purchase comprehensive coverage
in some states.
"People who are less healthy (including those with preexisting or newly
acquired medical conditions) would ultimately be unable to purchase
comprehensive non-group health insurance at premiums comparable to those
under current law, if they could purchase it at all," the CBO report
The CBO said markets for people to buy individual insurance plans could
then become "unstable" in states that choose to waive the Obamacare
requirements for coverage of pre-existing medical conditions and
essential health benefits.
Even before the report, many Republican senators were wary of the House
version of the healthcare bill, saying it unraveled Obamacare too much
and too quickly. About 20 million people gained insurance under
The House bill would eliminate most Obamacare taxes that help subsidize
private health coverage for individuals, roll back the government's
Medicaid health plan for the poor and disabled and replace the law's
income-based tax credits for buying medical coverage with credits based
A group of 13 Republican senators led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch
McConnell is expected to draft its own version of the healthcare bill in
the coming months. McConnell, however, told Reuters on Wednesday he does
not yet know how Republicans will get the necessary votes.
"This is a very challenging undertaking," McConnell said.
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An electronic patients chart is shown on the wall to a hospital room
in San Diego, California April 17, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake
After the release of the CBO report, several Republican senators
said they could not support the House bill.
"While I am in favor of repealing Obamacare, I am opposed to the
American Health Care Act in its current form," Republican Senator
Dean Heller said in a statement.
Republican Senator Susan Collins said too many people would lose
insurance and that older and low-income Americans would be hurt.
House Republicans, who argue their healthcare bill would allow
insurance markets to function more efficiently, focused on the
projected budget savings from it and a finding in the CBO report
that said insurance premiums for some people would decline.
Groups representing hospitals, insurers and doctors who opposed the
House bill said the CBO report showed the Senate should start fresh
with an eye to maintaining coverage and benefits.
Democrats also blasted the bill and said the CBO report proved it
would be catastrophic for millions of people who would lose health
"The report makes clear Trumpcare would be a cancer on the American
healthcare system," Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said at a
The new CBO score predicts the AHCA would cover 1 million more
Americans than Republicans' previous version of the bill, which the
agency estimated would have left 24 million more people uninsured
than Obamacare in 2026.
To allay concerns about coverage of people with pre-existing
illnesses, House Republicans allocated an additional $8 billion over
five years in their bill to help sick people pay for insurance
premiums but the CBO said the money would not be enough to help them
The CBO said premiums would fall for younger people and rise for
older people in states that did not waive Obamacare requirements for
an overall decline of about 4 percent. In states that made moderate
changes to their markets, representing about one-third of the U.S.
population, premiums would fall 20 percent on average.
Reaction on Wall Street was muted, with shares of hospitals affected
by the cuts to Medicaid, like Community Health Systems, and health
insurers specializing in Medicaid, such as Molina Healthcare <MOH.N>
and Centene Corp <CNC.N> unchanged in light after-hours trading.
The Republicans' first attempt at undoing Obamacare this year
resulted in a setback for the Trump agenda in March. Conservative
and moderate Republican factions in the House were opposed to the
initial legislation and the leadership decided not to put it up for
(Reporting by Yasmeen Abutaleb; Additional reporting by Caroline
Humer; Editing by Caren Bohan and Bill Trott)
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