CBO health score stirs alarm in the Senate
© Greg Nash

Senate Republicans are showing fresh signs of concern about a House bill to repeal and replace ObamaCare after an analysis projected that tens of millions would become uninsured under the legislation.

GOP senators stressed that they were still digesting the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis but signaled that they expect the House bill will likely need to be changed in light of the report.

“At the end of the day we should pause and try to improve the product in the light of the CBO analysis rather than just rejecting it,” Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSenate GOP urges Trump administration to work closely with Congress on NAFTA Graham: Trump will 'end North Korea’s threat to the American homeland' in his first term Sunday shows preview: Lawmakers weigh in after Texas school shooting MORE (R-S.C.) told reporters.

The CBO is projecting that under the House repeal and replace plan, the number of uninsured people would grow by 14 million in 2018, with that number rising to 24 million in a decade.

Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainOvernight Defense: Pompeo lays out new Iran terms | Pentagon hints at more aggressive posture against Iran | House, Senate move on defense bill Senate GOP urges Trump administration to work closely with Congress on NAFTA Sarah Sanders: ‘Democrats are losing their war against women in the Trump administration’ MORE (R-Ariz.) said he would wait until the House finishes changing the legislation to make a final decision, but said he was “always” concerned about individuals losing their health insurance.

“I'm concerned more ...[about] what the House bill will do to Arizona especially since they expanded Medicaid,” he said.

The CBO found that the spike in the number of uninsured Americans would largely be tied to the proposed changes to Medicaid. The House bill both ends the extra federal funds for the expansion of Medicaid and caps overall federal spending for the program, both of which CBO says would lead to people losing coverage.

Pressed if he thought the House bill was dead on arrival in the upper chamber, McCain suggested that he was waiting to see what changes are made.

"I'll have to wait until the House finishes ... before I make a judgement."

House GOP leadership is pushing legislation, known as the American Health Care Act, that would dismantle core provisions of ObamaCare, including the Medicaid expansion, and put in place a new tax credit to help people buy insurance.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenators near deal on sexual harassment policy change Blankenship third-party bid worries Senate GOP Overnight Finance: Trump signs repeal of auto-loan policy | Justices uphold contracts that bar employee class-action suits | US, China trade war 'on hold' MORE (R-Ky.) said late last week that senators would have the chance to amend the legislation before it gets a final vote in the Senate, but that has done little to quell public criticism of the bill from his caucus.

In a Monday evening statement, he said, “The takeaway from today’s announcement is clear: the Congressional Budget Office agrees that the American Health Care Act will ultimately lower premiums and increase access to care."

He dinged the CBO report as "incomplete" and said it "only considers one piece of our three-prong approach."
"And because this CBO report paints only a third of the picture, its statistics on coverage are obviously premature," he added. 

But Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsPressure rising on GOP after Trump–DOJ fight’s latest turn Trump's plan to claw back spending hits wall in Congress Dem rep to launch discharge petition to force net neutrality vote in House MORE (R-Maine) said the CBO's findings should be a "cause for alarm" for lawmakers. 

"It should prompt the House to slow down and reconsider certain provisions of the bill," she said in a statement. "We need to spend the time necessary to get this right."

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), who is pitching an alternative ObamaCare repeal and replace bill with Collins, told reporters on Monday that the CBO score is “awful.”

The CBO analysis drew an immediate wave of criticism against the House bill from congressional Democrats.

Reacting to the office’s analysis, Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersClinton backs Georgia governor hopeful on eve of primary The Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — Frenzy over Kennedy retirement rumors | Trump challenges DOJ Bernie Sanders announces Senate reelection bid MORE (I-Vt.) told reporters that under the House legislation “thousands of Americans will die.”

But top Republicans showed no signs of backing away from the bill, which is still considered the main vehicle for ObamaCare repeal and replacement.

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanHillicon Valley: Mnuchin urges antitrust review of tech | Progressives want to break up Facebook | Classified election security briefing set for Tuesday | Tech CEOs face pressure to appear before Congress Feehery: An opening to repair our broken immigration system GOP chairman in talks with 'big pharma' on moving drug pricing bill MORE (R-Wis.) touted the analysis’s findings that the House bill would decrease premiums, reduce the deficit and provide tax relief.

“I recognize and appreciate concerns about making sure people have access to coverage," he said in a statement. "[O]ur plan is not about forcing people to buy expensive, one-size-fits-all coverage. It is about giving people more choices and better access to a plan they want and can afford."

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynPressure rising on GOP after Trump–DOJ fight’s latest turn Senate GOP urges Trump administration to work closely with Congress on NAFTA This week: House GOP regroups after farm bill failure MORE (R-Texas) separately told reporters that the CBO analysis “doesn’t include the whole picture.”

"The CBO says that the main reason why those numbers go up is because people aren't punished for failing to buy government approved health insurance policies. So when you give people the freedom to choose what they think is good for them and their family, then some of them are going to choose not to buy it,” he said.

Some Republicans, as well as Trump officials, publicly questioned the legitimacy of the CBO’s past findings in the wake of its report on the House bill.

Graham, however, argued that his GOP colleagues should spending time reviewing and trying to address the the budget office’s findings.

"We like the CBO when they agree with us,” the South Carolina senator told reporters. “When they don't, they're a bunch of losers." 

— Jessie Hellmann contributed. Updated 8:03 p.m.