Sen. Mike Lee Slams Senate Healthcare Bill

Sen. Mike Lee came out hard against the Senate healthcare reform bill, named the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA), in a statement on his website.

Following a joint statement issued with three conservative colleagues, Sen. Mike Lee elaborated more fully on his opposition, his reasoning, and some of the process of the negotiations of the bill.

He lays out his position quite clearly,

No, the Senate healthcare bill released yesterday does not repeal Obamacare. It doesn’t even significantly reform American healthcare.

It cuts taxes. It bails out insurance companies. It props up Obamacare through the next election. It lays out plans to slow Medicaid spending beginning in 2025, but that probably won’t happen. And it leaves in place the ham-fisted federal regulations that have driven up family health insurance premiums by 140 percent since Obamacare was implemented.

As the bill is currently drafted, I won’t vote for it.

A scathing rebuke of legislation if there ever was one. But he doesn’t end there. He then explains some of the backstory of the behind-closed-doors wrangling and negotiation. He joined the Senate working group on reforming healthcare in order to fulfill the campaign promise to repeal Obamacare, which the GOP has run on since 2010. That was his starting point, but many of his GOP colleagues opposed that position. So when that failed, he sought a “partial repeal”, which had passed the Senate in 2015 and Senate leadership again promised back in January of this year. A “partial repeal” would force a restart to get things right this time. But that was rebuffed too. Then, Sen. Lee says he sought to repeal Obamacare’s crippling regulations, but the BCRA has left those regulations mostly in place.

Yet when the Better Care Reconciliation Act was unveiled yesterday, the core Obamacare regulations were largely untouched.

Far short of “repeal,” the Senate bill keeps the Democrats’ broken system intact, just with less spending on the poor to pay for corporate bailouts and tax cuts. A cynic might say that the BCRA is less a Republican health care bill than a caricature of a Republican health care bill.

Even so, Sen. Lee understands the opportunities in front of him. He still is willing to consider voting for this legislation if there is one major provision added. He wants the option of Federalism to be available, i.e., he wants states to be able to opt out of the national system and experiment on their own.

And so, for all my frustrations about the process and my disagreements with the substance of BCRA, I would still be willing to vote for it if it allowed states and/or individuals to opt-out of the Obamacare system free-and-clear to experiment with different forms of insurance, benefits packages, and care provision options. Liberal states might try single-payer systems, while conservatives might emphasize health savings accounts. Some people embrace association health plans or so-called “medishare” ministry models. My guess is different approaches will work for different people in different places – like everything else in life.

To win my vote, the Republican health care bill must create a little space for states and individuals to sidestep Washington’s arrogant incompetence, and see if they can do better.

Despite moderates getting most everything they have demanded in BCRA, such an opt-out provision could still drive off moderate support, which Mitch McConnell has spent most of his time courting. Many moderate Republicans don’t really want to repeal Obamacare. They want to “fix” it instead. Thus, they are keeping the centralized government control that is at the heart of Obamacare. That’s why the Senate bill looks more like Obamacare 2.0 than Repeal and Replace.

Even so, with 52 GOP Senators, Mitch McConnell can only afford to lose two votes. Liberal Republican Sen. Dean Heller has already come out against BCRA. Heller is up for re-election in 2018, and he’s facing a tough race. With the unpopularity of the current attempts at GOP healthcare reform, he may be impossible to win over, no matter what. With Heller’s vote likely gone, Mike Lee’s vote becomes all the more important. Even though McConnell would prefer to please moderates, he cannot ignore conservatives here. Time will tell what happens next to the bill before the vote.

No matter what legislation comes out of the Senate though, it seems likely that the House and Senate will end up in a Conference Committee to hash out differences in their bills. That is where the story will really be told.

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