Protesters urge ‘no’ vote on GOP health care bill, as details emerge

Protesters wave at traffic outside Sen. Jeff Flake’s office, where they called on him to vote against the GOP plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. (Photo by Devin Conley/Cronkite News)

The Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, said that the Senate’s plan to replace Obamacare could have as much as a $7.1 billion impact on the state by 2016. (Photo by Devin Conley/Cronkite News)

The Congressional Budget Office predicts the House plan to replace the Affordable Care Act could cause 23 million people to lose their coverage. The CBO has not yet scored the Senate bill. (Photo by Devin Conley/Cronkite News)

Angry protesters rallied outside Sen. Jeff Flake’s Phoenix office Friday, demanding that he vote against a Republican health care bill that new analyses claim could hit Arizona particularly hard.

The Senate plan to replace Obamacare would cost the state as much as $7.1 billion through fiscal 2026, according to an estimate released Friday by the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state’s Medicaid office.

Those costs would come from the federal government shifting Medicaid costs to states, withholding payments for uncompensated care at hospitals and imposing new caps on per capita reimbursement rates for health care, the AHCCCS report said.

Separate reports released Friday by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a think tank in Washington, highlighted many of the same areas of concern in the Senate bill for states.

The center estimates that the proposal to shift the cost of Medicaid payments to states could cost Arizona an additional $243.2 million by 2021, a number that could grow to $773 million by 2024. Those were higher than AHCCCS’s estimates of an additional $146 million in costs to the state in 2021 and $537 million in 2024.

The center’s analysis said the funding formula in the GOP bill would reward states that spend less on Medicaid per person than the national average. The center said that could spark a “race to the bottom” in medical coverage as states try to undercut one another.

“These policies would prove devastating to state Medicaid programs over time, very likely causing many of the most vulnerable people to lose access to care when they need it most,” the center’s report said.

It also noted that there are factors affecting Medicaid spending over which states have little control over, such as growing numbers of baby boomers, and it specifically cited Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico as state that will see their bills for health care rise as those boomers age.

Details on the Senate plan were still emerging Friday, a day after a “discussion draft” of the bill was released by Republican leaders in the Senate who have been working for weeks behind closed doors.

The House passed its own version of a bill to replace the Affordable Care Act last month.

-Cronkite News video by Devin Conley

That bill was criticized by some conservatives in the House, who said it did not go far enough to undo Obamacare. And it was blasted by Democrats, who pointed to a Congressional Budget Office analysis that said the House bill would cause 24 million Americans to lose health insurance over 10 years, with the bulk of those in the first year.

The CBO is not expected to “score” the Senate version of the health care bill until next week, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has vowed to have a vote on the measure by the end of the week.

Flake and fellow Arizona Sen. John McCain, both Republicans, said Thursday that they planned to study the Senate bill before making a decision.

But outside Flakes’ Phoenix office Friday, protesters called on Flake to vote against the reform measure next week. Democrats are expected to vote as a bloc against the bill, meaning it could be defeated with as few as three Republican votes.

“We don’t let this happen to our country, we don’t let this happen to our state,” said Mickey Tucker, one of about 40 protesters outside Flake’s office. “This is do or die and we don’t have a choice at this point.”

The protesters waved signs and shouted at passing traffic before heading into the office for a testy exchange with Flake staffers who were there. Those at the rally were demanding that something must be done to protect Arizonans from what they see as potentially devastating cuts that could eliminate health care coverage for some of the state’s most vulnerable residents.

Alyssa Brooks-Dowty, a former foster parent who is also the mother of a young child with two pre-existing medical conditions, said she was there because she feels the reform poses an immediate threat to her family.

“Right now it’s just too big of a deal, it’s a life-and-death situation for so many people,” she said Friday at Flake’s office. “The poor need health care, the elderly need health care, the disabled need health care, we can’t have these cuts.”

Flake was not in the Phoenix office Friday but Michael Vargas, his state director, told protesters he would pass along their messages.

In a statement released by the office late Friday, Flake said he wanted to “thank those constituents who came out to share their concerns and I’m pleased everyone who wanted to had the opportunity to speak with my staff.”