Grassroots activists and state officials are making another push to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, and a leading figure in the effort believes there is a 50-50 chance it can get passed before the midterm elections.
“Health reform is not dead,” said Galen Institute President Grace-Marie Turner, who has been working with other activists to revive the effort ever since the Senate failed to advance legislation last summer. They plan to hold a press conference outlining their reform principles next week.
“Next Wednesday afternoon, here in Washington, with a number of governors, state legislators and others,” she said.
Turner says the new approach builds on a last-minute effort by Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Bill Cassidy, R-La., that would move much of the authority to make health care policy out of Washington.
“It’s based upon the chassis of Graham-Cassidy with block grants to the states but with a lot of refinements that make this a much better bill,” said Turner. “We need to move resources and authority back to the states to heal their health insurance markets that have been broken by Obamacare.”
What would her preferred legislation actually look like?
“Basically we’re saying this money that’s currently going to insurance companies, dumping more and more money into Medicaid, these sort of open-ended entitlements. Let us turn those into a block grant and distribute that money among the different states and give them more flexibility in how they spend that money in order to provide better choices for health insurance and lower costs,” said Turner.
Turner says there would still be federal subsidies associated with the plan to help people afford private, commercially available health insurance. There would also be funds for patients facing chronic illness or major events like organ transplants.
She adds that the individual market was badly hurt by Obamacare, despite endless promises to the contrary.
“We actually have no more people covered in the individual market today than we did before Obamacare passed. We spent all this money. We have turned our health care system upside down and no [additional] people have private health insurance,” she said.
“Yes, there are more people covered (overall), but the great majority of them are on Medicaid which, as we know, is a terrible program for people,” said Turner, noting Medicaid patients have a terrible time finding primary physicians who will see them and certain specialists are also almost impossible to get.
She says legislation grounded in the ideas she is pushing would open many more doors for patients.
“People need the option of private coverage, quality coverage, that gives them not only access to coverage, but actually access to care,” said Turner.
But will activism among the grassroots and at the state level get Congress to take up the issue so close to Election Day?
“We believe the Senate is going to take our recommendations seriously and hopefully we’ll be able to move this forward. We think there are a lot of forces that are going to bring them back to health reform this summer, even though they’d really like to do something else,” said Turner.
Turner is also buoyed by the news that the Senate will remain in session for most of August and is confident Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will bring the issue to the floor if he knows there are 50 votes to pass it. Republicans would once again need to approve the reconciliation process for the debate since there is no chance of getting 60 votes for the legislation.
“We think it won’t be very hard to get it through the House. The Senate is really where the focus will be over the next several weeks,” said Turner.
“I’m pretty optimistic. I’d give it a 50-50 chance, which is a lot more than most people on Capitol Hill would give it,” she said.