Arizona reaction to Senate health bill ranges from lukewarm to hostile

Doctors at the Capitol with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, in blue jacket, where they rallied against the Senate Republican plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. (Photo by Noelle Lilley/Cronkite News)

Critics of the GOP plan to replace Obamacare say it cuts spending and taxes, but does so at the expense of health care coverage for people who need it most. (Photo by Noelle Lilley/Cronkite News)

Phoenix native Mansi Kotwal, now a practicing pediatrician in Washington, D.C., said she came to rally against the plan to replace Obamacare because it has been “an excellent law.” (Photo by Noelle Lilley/Cronkite News)

Capitol Police outside a Senate office building where they arrested disabled protesters who said the health care reform bill proposed by Senate Republicans would hurt their care. (Photo by Noelle Lilley/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – The Senate Republican plan to replace Obamacare was quickly attacked by Democrats and kept at arm’s length by Arizona’s Republican senators, who seemed less than eager to comment on a bill few had seen before its release Thursday.

The 142-page “Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017” would cut deeply into Medicaid funding and do away with the current mandate for coverage, but would also preserve some subsidies to help taxpayers afford health insurance.

Critics said the Senate bill is strikingly similar to the American Health Care Act that the House passed last month, a bill the Congressional Budget Office said would cost as many as 23 million Americans their health insurance over 10 years, with most of the losses in the first year.

The Senate version of the bill is not expected to get a CBO “score” until next week, although Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he plans to have a vote before senators leave for the July Fourth recess.

Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake said in a tweet that he planned to “take time to thoroughly read and review it.” Sen. John McCain called the bill a step in the right direction, but said he planned on “consulting with Gov. Doug Ducey and seeking input from Arizonans before making a final decision.”

“Any replacement plan must ensure our citizens have access to affordable and flexible health care, and I look forward to thoroughly examining this legislation and engaging in a robust amendment process in the Senate next week,” McCain said in a statement released Thursday.

Democrats had no such reservations about where they stand on the legislation, with Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, calling the Senate draft a “mean-spirited bill” that will take health care away from millions.

“Senate Republican leadership is trying to ram major health care legislation through without holding committee hearings or public debate. This is unprecedented,” Gallego said in a prepared statement.

Most Republicans, including President Donald Trump, have repeatedly pointed to spikes in insurance premiums – Arizona led the nation with an average 116 percent increase in premiums last year – as a reason to take action on Obamacare.

Not all Republicans are happy with their party’s plans, however. Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, said in a statement Thursday that the House and Senate bills do not go far enough, calling for a “clean start, not a rewrite or fix to our current system.”

But protesters at the Capitol Thursday said the current system needs to be protected.

Dr. Mansi Kotwal, a Phoenix native who practices pediatrics in Washington, rallied at the Capitol with Democratic leaders who called on senators to vote against the bill that replaces the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

-Cronkite News video by Noelle Lilley

“The ACA is an excellent law and has increased access to care to millions of Americans, and we don’t want that law to get lost,” Kotwal said.

She pointed to the ACA’s provisions that prohibited insurers from denying coverage based on a person’s pre-existing medical condition.

“The ACA basically eliminated all those constrictions. We have a lot of patients coming in now with access to care that had a history of diabetes, a history of cancer, a history of asthma, whatever it might be that would have been a barrier access to care prior,” Kotwal said.

The Senate bill will allow states to remove protections for people with pre-existing conditions and increase premiums up to 20 percent, according to a report released Thursday by the Century Foundation.

Those changes, along with proposed tax cuts in the Republicans’ plans, led to the first comments from former President Barack Obama on the GOP proposals to replace his namesake legislation.

“The Senate bill, unveiled today, is not a health care bill,” Obama said on Facebook Thursday. “It’s a massive transfer of wealth from middle-class and poor families to the richest people in America.

“Simply put, if there’s a chance you might get sick, get old, or start a family – this bill will do you harm,” he said. “And small tweaks over the course of the next couple weeks, under the guise of making these bills easier to stomach, cannot change the fundamental meanness at the core of this legislation.”

– Cronkite News reporter Noelle Lilley contributed to this report.