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Friday July 19th, 2019 6:59PM

New blow to GOP health bill: Nevada GOP Sen. Heller opposes

By The Associated Press
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WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada said Friday he opposes the GOP bill that would scuttle much of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, complicating the task party leaders face in guiding the banner legislation through the Senate.

Heller, who faces a difficult re-election fight next year, said he would vote against the bill in its current form but did not rule out supporting a revamped version.

Facing unanimous Democratic opposition, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., must get yes votes from 50 of the 52 GOP senators to avoid a defeat that would be a major embarrassment to President Donald Trump and the Republican Party.

McConnell has acknowledged that he's willing to change the measure before it's voted on.

The Senate bill would make major cuts in the federal-state Medicaid program for poor and disabled people. That includes phasing out extra money Obama's statute gives states that have expanded the program, a step Nevada has taken, adding 200,000 additional people.

"It doesn't protect Nevadans on Medicaid and the most vulnerable Nevadans," Heller said at a news conference in Las Vegas.

Hours after McConnell unveiled the bill Thursday, four other GOP senators said they also opposed the measure and several others expressed qualms about it.

McConnell released the bill after weeks of closed-door meetings searching for middle ground between conservative senators seeking an aggressive repeal of Obama's statute and centrists warning about going too far.

Democrats were hoping to scare off as many Republican votes as possible by planning efforts around the country to criticize the measure. They say the GOP plan would mean fewer people with coverage and higher costs for many.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was urging Democrats to post stories on social media on constituents whose health care coverage would be threatened.

"No argument against Trumpcare is more eloquent than the grave consequences it means in people's lives," she wrote colleagues.

The bill would cut and redesign the Medicaid program for low-income and disabled people, and erase taxes on higher earners and the medical industry that helped pay for the roughly 20 million Americans covered by Obama's law. It would let insurers provide fewer benefits, offer less generous subsidies than Obama to help people buy policies and end the statute's tax penalties on people who don't buy policies and on larger firms that don't offer coverage to workers.

Shortly after the 142-page bill was distributed, more than a half-dozen GOP lawmakers signaled concerns or initial opposition.

Four conservative senators expressed opposition but openness to talks: Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Mike Lee of Utah and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. They said the measure missed delivering a GOP promise to Americans "to repeal Obamacare and lower their health care costs."

In an interview with Fox News Channel, Trump was asked about the four conservatives opposing the bill. "Well, they're also four good guys, four friends of mine, and I think that they'll probably get there," he said. "We'll have to see."

GOP Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia also expressed concerns about the bill's cuts to Medicaid and drug addiction efforts.

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine reiterated her opposition to language blocking federal money for Planned Parenthood, which many Republicans oppose because it provides abortions. The bill would also bar using tax credits to buy coverage that includes abortions.

The House approved its version of the bill last month. Though Trump lauded its passage in a Rose Garden ceremony, he called the House measure "mean" last week.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said that under the House bill, 23 million fewer people would have coverage by 2026. The budget office analysis of the Senate measure is expected early next week.

The Senate bill would phase out extra money Obama's law provides to 31 states that agreed to expand coverage under the federal-state Medicaid program. Those additional funds would continue through 2020, then gradually fall and disappear entirely in 2024.

The measure largely uses people's incomes as the yardstick for helping those without workplace coverage to buy private insurance. That would focus the aid more on people with lower incomes than the House legislation, which bases its subsidies on age.

The bill would let states get waivers to ignore some coverage requirements under Obama's law, such as specific health services insurers must now cover.

___

AP writer Regina Garcia Cano reported from Las Vegas.

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