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GOP takes heavy fire over pre-existing conditions
The new ObamaCare repeal measure from Senate Republicans would give states a way to repeal protections for people with pre-existing conditions, a controversial move that opponents of the bill are denouncing.
The provision attracted widespread attention on Wednesday after late-night host Jimmy Kimmel blasted Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), a lead author of the legislation. Kimmel said the senator is violating the "Jimmy Kimmel test," which Cassidy coined as a way of saying that no one should be denied care because they can't afford it.
"This guy Bill Cassidy just lied right to my face," Kimmel said.
Cassidy denies that his bill would hurt people with health problems. Before getting a waiver from ObamaCare regulations, he notes, states would have to tell the government how they would provide "adequate and affordable" coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), another author of the bill, was blunt about the claim people would be denied coverage.
"It's garbage," he told NBC News.
The language in the Cassidy-Graham bill would specifically allow states to waive an ObamaCare rule that prevents people with pre-existing conditions from being charged higher premiums due to their illness.
Without that protection, experts warn that coverage could become unaffordable for many.
"Premiums could be unlimited for people who are sick," said Larry Levitt, a health policy expert at the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Experts note that there is no clear definition in the bill of what "adequate and affordable" care means. Without such language, the waivers would essentially be a judgment call for the secretary of Health and Human Services, a position now held by Tom Price.
Levitt said there is a "pretty low bar" in the legislation for states to be able to waive the ObamaCare protections.
Dick Woodruff, vice president of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, said he is "extremely worried" about the repeal bill's effect on cancer patients.
"It would have the effect of undoing the patient protections in the Affordable Care Act," Woodruff said.
Adding to the anxiety about the bill, it would allow states to waive ObamaCare's essential health benefits, which require insurance plans to cover a range of services like mental health or prescription drugs.
While Kimmel, whose infant son was born with a congenital heart defect, gave publicity to the pre-existing condition issue this week, GOP senators have mostly been quiet on the issue.
That's a reversal from the summer, when more moderate Republican senators strenuously objected to efforts by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and other conservatives to roll back the ObamaCare protections around pre-existing conditions.
"We're not going to do anything to change the current law when it comes to pre-existing conditions, I know which was a big concern with the House bill," Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), the Senate's No. 2 Republican, said in June, referencing the worries in the Senate GOP conference.
But now, with a new bill that allows states to repeal those protections, GOP senators have not raised the same objections.
The Graham-Cassidy bill suddenly appears to have a real chance of passing, catching Democrats and opponents by surprise.
The legislation has not received as much scrutiny as previous repeal bills and could pass before the Congressional Budget Office is able to fully analyze it.
Cassidy and Graham say their bill is about empowering the states to make decisions about their own health-care systems.
"Democrats are more comfortable with power being in Washington, D.C., and individuals kind of being directed how they live their life," Cassidy said on MSNBC on Wednesday. "Republicans are more comfortable giving power back to the patient, power back to the state."
Health-care groups reject that argument.
The American Medical Association warned in a letter to Congress that the bill "would result in millions of Americans losing their health insurance coverage."
It would also "allow insurers to charge unaffordable premiums based on ... pre-existing conditions," the group said.