Tester slams Republican health care plan

by Alex Ross, Havre Daily News

Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester said Wednesday he has deep concerns with how Senate Republicans are going about drafting a health care bill to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

The Senate is now working on a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, five weeks after the U.S. House of Representatives passed the American Health Care Act by a vote of 217 to 213.

Tester said during a telephone press conference from Washington that the House bill is “terrible” and criticized it for allowing states to opt out of provisions in the Affordable Care Act that prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions or charging older patients higher premiums.

“The bill was so bad Senate Republicans decided to write a different one,” Tester said. “The problem is 13 Republican senators are writing it, they aren’t letting anyone else in the room, they aren’t holding hearings and they aren’t letting me or any of the American people see it. In Montana that is not how we do things.”

Tester’s communications director Marnee Banks said after the call that the 13 Republicans Tester referred to are members of a working group tasked with drafting a bill that can pass the Senate.

Montana Republican Sen. Steve Daines was not among the names on the list of senators Banks later provided.

Tester said he does not know how things will unfold going forward. Normally the bill would go before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions where a hearing would be held to discuss the bill. However, Tester said he worries Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who is in the working group, will try and rush the final bill to the floor before lawmakers and the public have a chance to give input.

In an email response to a request for comment, Daines’ press secretary Katie Waldman said hearings have been held for seven years about a replacement for the Affordable Care Act, and when the bill comes to the floor senators will be able to offer amendments to it.

“It would be great (if) Senator Tester would work across party lines to make healthcare affordable for Montanans,” Waldman said, adding the group has not yet produced a bill.

Tester, who voted for the Affordable Care Act in late 2009, said the legislation improved health care through protections for people with pre-existing conditions, providing subsidies for people to buy insurance on the individual marketplace and allowing parents to keep their children on their health insurance until up to age 26. However, rising health care premiums and deductibles continue to be a problem.

“Quite frankly, we ought to focus on that,” Tester said.

He added that it is important the Senate fix what is wrong with the Affordable Care Act and keep what is right with it.”

Critics of the Affordable Care Act, such as President Donald Trump, have pointed to the large number of insurance providers pulling out of the Affordable Care Act’s insurance marketplace, and say as a result the Affordable Care Act is “in a death spiral.”

“Why is it that the fake news rarely reports Ocare is on its last legs and that insurance companies are fleeing for their lives? It’s dead,” Trump said in a May 5 tweet.

Tester said in the last five months talk by lawmakers about not enforcing penalties against people who choose not to get health insurance or discontinue payments to people eligible to receive subsidies are creating a “self fulfilling prophecy.”

“So what happens in those kinds of situations is you end up with business when there is instability raising rates,” Tester said “So what happens when rates go up? Well when they go up high enough then Obamacare goes into a death spiral.”