Colorado U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner explains work on health reform as protests continue
Author: Peter Marcus - June 15, 2017 - Updated: June 18, 2017
Rallies against a Republican plan to replace the Affordable Care Act continued in Colorado this week, as Colorado Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner remains hopeful for a bipartisan solution on health reform.
Health-care workers and patients marched to Gardner’s office in Denver on Tuesday, claiming the GOP is “attacking” health care coverage.
“If we end up with Trumpcare, nobody is really sure what will be covered and that’s a little scary for us because Medicaid covers everything,” said Elizabeth Colatrella, a Medicaid beneficiary who has multiple sclerosis and participated in the march.
The group says Republicans in Congress are “fast-tracking” a “partisan” health care repeal bill in secrecy. There is speculation that a vote on a Senate proposal could come in early July, though those reports are unsubstantiated and there is still no final measure that has been drafted.
“I keep hearing arguments about how it’s taking so long to come up with a bill, and then people are talking about how it’s being fast-tracked,” Gardner quipped. “This is a complicated issue that we need to get right .… We want to make sure that this actually does a better job than Obamacare.”
But critics of the GOP effort say Republicans are hiding negotiations from the public because the outcome of the proposal would be dire for Americans.
“They know that once the public sees the details of how the bill dramatically increases costs, guts patient protections, and will result in millions fewer covered, support will plummet – just like it did when nearly the same bill made it through the House,” read a statement from the protesters, which included unions and health care workers.
House Republicans proposed replacing the Affordable Care Act with a plan that would roll back Medicaid expansion starting in 2019. Federal reimbursements to states would be cut. Instead, the federal government would give states a capped amount of money for each Medicaid enrollee, or let states choose to receive a block grant.
The Senate legislation is being crafted behind closed doors, so details remain murky.
Gardner said proposals around capping Medicaid dollars to the states and block grants are a part of the Senate discussions, though no decisions have been made. The senator added that states would need flexibility and time to transition to the changes.
Gardner said he would like to preserve Medicaid, but in a way that is sustainable.
“If you don’t have a sustainable Medicaid program, then you risk the Medicaid programs; if you don’t have individual insurance to purchase, then you can’t cover people with preexisting conditions because there’s no insurance for them to buy.”
Republicans have lamented over spiking health insurance costs since the Affordable Care Act was enacted. Rural Colorado has seen some of the largest increases in the state.
The senator would like to preserve coverage for preexisting conditions in the Senate version of reform, while also empowering a “competitive marketplace” to lower the price of insurance.
Proposals are being discussed by a group of 13 Republican lawmakers, including Gardner, instead of through the committee process. While complaints are being raised that it is a secretive process, those who are a part of the negotiations are calling it a “working group” aimed at reaching a deal that can be tolerated by both sides of the aisle.
“This is the outcome of the Affordable Care Act, which was passed in the most partisan of fashions. Not a single Republican vote was a part of it,” Gardner said. “I hope that can change. I hope Democrats will start working on a solution.”
He added that his office has been speaking with Colorado hospital associations, physician associations, constituents and Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, a former hospital executive who has made health policy a priority since taking office.
Gardner was part of a group of Republicans that met with President Trump on Tuesday. The president has signaled that he would like to see a “generous” and “kind” measure that can rally bipartisan support.
“We have to in order to save the American people from a collapsing Obamacare, and I hope it has bipartisan support,” Gardner said.
One issue is the impact changes might have on business owners and hospital administrators. A recent survey by Womply, which collects data for small businesses, found that Colorado’s estimated 570,000 small businesses are “sharply divided” on health care reform.
Thirty-one percent of local merchants said their sentiment towards repeal of the ACA “depends on what replaced it.” Twenty percent said ACA repeal would have “no impact” on their businesses, while 17 percent said it would be negative and 26 percent said it would be positive.
“The vast majority of businesses that I’m meeting with, they’re not telling me don’t do anything because we don’t want to change the way we’ve been doing it,” Gardner said. “They say, ‘Please do something because we can’t afford health care and it’s got to change.’”