How much will the GOP health plan cost the Tri-State area? - Cincinnati News, FOX19-WXIX TV

How much will the GOP health plan cost the Tri-State area?

Rep. Brad Wenstrup supported the AHCA after new amendments were implemented. (Provided, Speaker Paul Ryan's office) Rep. Brad Wenstrup supported the AHCA after new amendments were implemented. (Provided, Speaker Paul Ryan's office)
CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) -

Health insurance coverage for Americans with pre-existing conditions is at the core of the debate over House Republicans’ American Health Care Act (AHCA). But the bill's text sets the stage for other controversial measures including a massive tax cut for wealthy Americans and offsetting the cost to poorer, older patients.

The bill that could jeopardize vulnerable Republicans now heads to the Senate where it is not expected to survive, but lawmakers throwing their support behind the controversial measure that is seemingly dead-on-arrival raises one major question: Why did they vote for it?

Federal guarantees to protect those with pre-existing conditions would be eliminated 

“Under the Affordable Care Act, people were losing health care,” Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Columbia Tusculum) said in an interview with FOX19 NOW. “We were faced with the reality of fixing a broken system.”

Wenstrup is in favor of some federal rules Obamacare enacted such as allowing young adults to stay on their parent's health insurance and requiring insurance companies to offer health care to cover Americans with pre-existing conditions.

But the key offering from GOP House leadership to the most conservative lawmakers was weakening federal protections for those with pre-existing conditions.

Wenstrup argues the House bill he voted in favor of does not boot people who have pre-existing conditions off their health insurance. The bill does not outright eliminate federal safeguards for sick patients. But a peek under the hood of the bill shows those safeguards are up-in-the-air. States could opt out of the Affordable Care Act's requirements, allowing insurers to charge higher rates for those with a history of a wide-range of mental and physical health issues. 

An eleventh hour amendment to the bill allocates $8 billion over five years to help subsidize sick people in states that waived federal protections. However, that money could be inadequate at covering millions of Americans with pre-existing conditions depending on how many states end up opting out. 

How much is this plan going to cost? There's no good answer yet

The GOP’s health care plan was passed without an updated score by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), a nonpartisan number-crunching group that forecasts the economic impact of all legislation that comes through Congress.

Wenstrup says he is comfortable with the original CBO score, saying he is happy with projections of a deflated deficit. However, he does not believe anyone in his district are at-risk of losing health insurance, despite Ohio facing $880 billion in Medicaid cuts.

“Keep in mind this is only phase one,” Wenstrup said having confidence the Senate will patch up the bill’s shortcomings. “I don’t see how this will kick people off of health care.”

The budget-cruncher’s projections of an earlier version of the bill in March found it would boot 14 million people off of health care in a year and another 10 million over a decade. The potentially toxic findings could spell trouble for Republicans in competitive districts in 2018 and open the door for Democrats to take ground.

At the same time, conservative lawmakers point to the the AHCA cutting taxes for the wealthy (individuals earning more than $200,000) and scaling back entitlements. However, older, low-income Americans would take the hardest hit with skyrocketing premiums and massive cuts to Medicaid.

Gov. John Kasich has been a vocal critic of President Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan’s plans to dismantle some Obama-era health care initiatives. Ohio is ground-zero for the heroin epidemic sweeping the nation and the Kasich relies a lot on federal money used to expand Medicaid and constantly warns lawmakers of the disastrous consequences if Obamacare is repealed without a replacement protecting millions of people from losing insurance. 

Data is projected by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Projections are for people 60 years and older with an income of $30,000

"In the area of Medicaid, they are going to eliminate Medicaid expansion," Kasich said on CNN's “State of the Union" Sunday. "I cover in Ohio 700,000 people now, a third of whom have mental illness, drug addiction and a quarter of whom have chronic disease."

Kasich also scoffed at the $8 billion worth of funding House Republicans dedicated to “high-risk pools” so those with pre-existing conditions can benefit from low healthcare costs.

“These low risk pools, they’re not funded, $8 billion is not enough, it’s ridiculous,” he said. “We can do with less resources, but we can’t do it over night. You can’t give people a $4,000 health policy. You know where they’re gonna be? They’re going to be living in the emergency room. What can you buy with $4,000?”

The CBO found the original version of the AHCA, head-charged by House Speaker Paul Ryan in March, would jack-up premiums by 15 to 20 percent in its first year compared to the ACA but would settle down to 10 percent lower by 2026.

Overall, older Americans will bare the brunt of the cost, according to estimates by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-profit that analyzes health policy. The legislation would allow insurers to charge people 64 and older five times more than younger people in 2018. Younger, healthy people in Ohio are expected to see smaller premiums.

Hot potato and a divided party

Only 20 Republicans went against their party leadership and voted against the AHCA. Most of them are moderates concerned about rising health care costs, some are clinging to their seats in districts Hillary Clinton won in the 2016 election, others went against the party for their own reasons. 

Rep. Thomas Massie, who represents Northern Kentucky, was unswayed by calls from the President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence urging him to back the administration's first legislative initiative. 

Rep. Thomas Massie"We voted on a healthcare bill for which the text was available only a few hours before the vote," Massie said in a written statement. "If this bill becomes law, it could result in worse outcomes, fewer options, and higher prices for Kentuckians who seek health care. In summary, I voted against this bill not because it’s imperfect, but because it’s not good."

Massie, a renegade Republican known for trolling the Trump administration said he was "sorry" for changing his vote on the AHCA from a "no" to a "hell no." 

No Republican has come out enthusiastically backing the health care plan. Immediately following its narrow passing, most lawmakers were quick to acknowledge it's a flawed piece of legislation and were just happy to have a minor victory in their crusade against Obamacare. Now House Republicans are banking on the Senate to fine-tune the measure. 

"The bill will go to the Senate, where they will make changes so it can pass through the Senate," Alexei Woltornist, spokesman for Rep. Warren Davidson said in an interview with FOX19 NOW. "From there, the House and Senate will conference their two versions of the bill to find a version they both agree on."

Rep. Warren Davidson (R-Troy) who voted in favor of the bill called it "just the first step" and that is falls short of how Republicans promised to tackle health policy. 

"Far more needs to be done, and we must not rest until we have accomplished the mission,” Davidson said in a written statement. 

If this ever comes out of the Senate, it's going to be totally different

The House bill now heads to the Senate where Republicans across the spectrum universally scoff at it and Democrats are taking the opportunity to rile-up their base with fundraising and media appearances. Republicans need 50 of their 52 votes to move forward, but the bill could be unpalatable for conservatives and moderates.

“900,000 people in Ohio have healthcare because of the Affordable Care Act,” Sen. Sherrod Brown said in an interview with FOX19 NOW. “They [Congress] get government insurance and they voted to take away insurance, I think it’s morally reprehensible."

As the responsibility of reinventing health care shifts from Speaker Ryan to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Brown is hopeful a redo will maintain more of Obamacare's previsions. 

"I would think that most senators would say we’re not gonna repeal that, we’re not going to take insurance away from people,” Brown said.  

Since the House's reversal on approving the health bill, hardliners, moderates and leadership are carving a path to pass their own version. Susan Collins of Maine, a moderate Republican most likely to break ranks with conservative measures, said the House bill won't even be put up for a vote. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said the Senate is not going to rush the bill and will wait on a CBO score if a new bill heads to the floor.

It's unclear how many coalitions are forming within the Senate's ranks, but writing up something that brings together the Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) wing and moderates like Collins and Sen. Rob Portman could be just as challenging as in the House with far fewer votes to spare. 

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