These GOP senators need to stand up to their party on healthcare
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American pop culture seems obsessed with superheroes. In dark times when ordinary humans fail, superheroes swoop in and rescue the imperiled. Unlike in the movies or comics, we must depend on actual humans to save some of our most vulnerable citizens — in this case, America’s seniors. 

The health and financial security of senior citizens are under attack on several fronts by President Trump and his party in Congress. Since House Republicans are on the front lines of this attack, best hopes for older Americans lie with a handful of Republican moderates in the Senate who could save the programs that seniors rely on. These Senators could become what we call “senior heroes” — thrusting themselves between seniors and legislation that would do them harm. 

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Appallingly, the Trump 2018 budget slashes funding for Meals on Wheels and other safety net programs for needy seniors. The House-passed American Health Care Act (AHCA) guts Medicaid, weakens Medicare, and makes private insurance prohibitively expensive for most older Americans. Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanGOP leaders pitch children's health funding in plan to avert shutdown Lawmakers see shutdown’s odds rising Fix what we’ve got and make Medicare right this year MORE and the House GOP are making plans to privatize Medicare, which would send millions of seniors into the insurance market with paltry vouchers. Medicaid — which covers more than 60 percent of long-term nursing care for seniors — is targeted for a cumulative $1.3 trillion in budget cuts.

 

Are there potential senior heroes in the Senate who will stand up for doing the right thing before it’s too late? Last winter, the National Committee identified 4 Republicans who we thought could serve as a “firewall” against devastating changes to Medicare, Medicaid, and the repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA): Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMcCain rips Trump for attacks on press NSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Meghan McCain says her father regrets opposition to MLK Day MORE (R-Ariz.), Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderWeek ahead: Lawmakers near deal on children's health funding Ryan suggests room for bipartisanship on ObamaCare Time to end fiscal year foolishness MORE (R-Tenn.), Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsDemocrats search for 51st net neutrality vote Overnight Tech: States sue FCC over net neutrality repeal | Senate Dems reach 50 votes on measure to override repeal | Dems press Apple on phone slowdowns, kids' health | New Android malware found Overnight Regulation: Dems claim 50 votes in Senate to block net neutrality repeal | Consumer bureau takes first step to revising payday lending rule | Trump wants to loosen rules on bank loans | Pentagon, FDA to speed up military drug approvals MORE (R-Maine), and Sen. Charles GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGOP senators eager for Romney to join them Five hurdles to a big DACA and border deal Grand jury indicts Maryland executive in Uranium One deal: report MORE (R-Iowa). Now that the consequences of the GOP healthcare plan are painfully clear, we believe other potential “senior heroes” could defend programs for older Americans in general:

Sen. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoGOP may increase IRS’s budget People with addiction issues should be able to control their own health data Trump signs bipartisan bill to combat synthetic opioids MORE (R-W.Va.)

Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeMcCain rips Trump for attacks on press Bipartisan group to introduce DACA bill in House Flake's anti-Trump speech will make a lot of noise, but not much sense MORE (R-Ariz.)

Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerDurbin: Senators to release immigration bill Wednesday GOP senators eager for Romney to join them Gardner: Bipartisan DACA solution possible despite Trump's 's---hole countries' comment MORE (R-Colo.)

Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerDemocrats search for 51st net neutrality vote Nevada Dems unveil 2018 campaign mascot: 'Mitch McTurtle' Senate campaign fundraising reports roll in MORE (R-Nev.)

Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSessions torched by lawmakers for marijuana move Calif. Republican attacks Sessions over marijuana policy Trump's executive order on minerals will boost national defense MORE (R-Ark.)

Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanFlake's anti-Trump speech will make a lot of noise, but not much sense Top GOP candidate drops out of Ohio Senate race Overnight Tech: Regulators to look at trading in bitcoin futures | Computer chip flaws present new security problem | Zuckerberg vows to improve Facebook in 2018 MORE (R-Ohio)

Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Ark.)

Each of these Senators has a vested interest in protecting seniors — and older Americans in these states have a lot to lose. Nearly 16 percent of Senator McCain’s and Senator Flake’s Arizona constituents are over 65, with 1.1 million Medicare beneficiaries and 1.3 million enrolled in Medicaid. Seniors make up 15 percent of Senator Portman’s constituents in Ohio, with 2.1 and 2.2 million residents receiving Medicare and Medicaid respectively. There are 1.7 million Medicare beneficiaries and 1.7 million more Medicaid recipients in the remaining states represented by the other potential senior heroes. How will these millions of seniors survive if their benefits are cut or eliminated?

 We believe these Senators can be persuaded to protect the lifeline that affordable, accessible healthcare represents for seniors. The GOP healthcare plan would make it harder and more expensive for older Americans to obtain health coverage. An estimated 5 million Americans age 50-64 would outright lose health coverage under this legislation and many others would pay significantly more than under Obamacare. A 64 year-old earning $26,500 a year could pay more than $16,000 in net premiums by 2026. When seniors cannot access proper health care they get sicker; many of them die.

Senate Republicans literally hold the fate of these seniors in their hands, and yet Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSessions: 'We should be like Canada' in how we take in immigrants NSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Overnight Finance: Lawmakers see shutdown odds rising | Trump calls for looser rules for bank loans | Consumer bureau moves to revise payday lending rule | Trump warns China on trade deficit MORE is recklessly rushing to pass the AHCA without hearings — and in virtual secrecy — for political expediency. As the Washington Post reported, “A small group of Republicans is amending the House bill behind closed doors. And for all the talk of having the Senate start over and fix the bad House bill, their reported changes appear to be minimal.” 

Senators will have precious little time to evaluate the bill before voting on it. McConnell will likely try to win over some of the moderate holdouts with small concessions that will allow the GOP to declare victory. But, for the sake of our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and family friends, they must stand firm. 

It is time for the Senate to put compassion before party, decency over expediency. For the sake of the millions of vulnerable seniors in their home states and across the country, we hope these GOP moderates will morph into the senior heroes we know they can be. 

Max Richtman is President and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare and former staff director of the Senate Select Committee on Aging.


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