Senate releases ‘skinny’ ObamaCare repeal bill

The Senate released a skinny ObamaCare repeal bill that defunds Planned Parenthood for a year, permanently eliminates the individual mandate and repeals the employer mandate for eight years.

The legislation would lead to 16 million more uninsured people, according to an estimate from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

The bill, titled the Health Care Freedom Act, also repeals the medical device tax for three years and increases contribution limits to health savings accounts for three years.

A vote on the bill is expected after midnight, and then lawmakers could offer amendments to the legislation. Some key senators have said they plan to support the legislation, setting up a conference with the House if the legislation is approved.

In addition to the repeal elements, the bill also gives states more flexibility to get innovation waivers to alter their healthcare systems.

The skinny repeal bill has emerged as the most likely measure that can pass the Senate amid months-long divisions over how to replace ObamaCare. A flurry of activity ensued Thursday, when some senators wanted assurances the bill would never actually become law.

At 5:15 p.m. Thursday, before the skinny bill was released, four Republican senators threatened to block the repeal effort.  

Sens. John McCain (Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Ron Johnson (Wis.) and Bill Cassidy (La.) said they wanted a guarantee the legislation would go to a conference committee with the House.

“There’s increasing concern on my part and others that what the House will do is take whatever we pass” and pass it without making changes, Graham said.

When asked what an assurance from the House would look like, Graham said, “It’s like pornography, you know it when you see it.”

Two hours later, Speaker Paul Ryan issued a statement saying “if moving forward requires a conference committee, that is something the House is willing to do.” He caveated that the House expected the Senate to pass a conference report first.

After Ryan issued the statement, Johnson and Graham — along with Sens. Mike Rounds (S.D.), Ted Cruz (Texas) and David Perdue (Ga.) — spoke with Ryan on the phone in Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn’s office.

Johnson and Graham said the phone call helped reassure their worries that the House wouldn’t take up and pass the Senate’s bill as is.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) urged members to back the bill in a floor speech, saying it would end the harm President Obama’s healthcare law imposed on the nation by eliminating its core elements.

Before the text was released, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said she knew how she was going to vote on the skinny bill, but declined to tell reporters.

When asked earlier in the day if defunding Planned Parenthood would make her oppose the skinny bill, she said “you all know that I’m a strong defender of Planned Parenthood.”

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) also indicated earlier in the day that he would vote on a skinny bill, a key win for leadership as Portman had previously been concerned about Medicaid changes. The skinny bill doesn’t end extra federal funds for Medicaid expansion, but that could change in conference. Twenty GOP senators represent states that have expanded Medicaid.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) denounced the process, noting that the public would have just about two hours to review the bill before voting on a measure affecting about one fifth of the economy.  

Tags Chris Murphy John Cornyn John McCain Lindsey Graham Lisa Murkowski Mitch McConnell Paul Ryan Rob Portman Ron Johnson Ted Cruz

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