Republican party leaders in the US Senate unveiled their health care reform bill on Thursday, ahead of a possible vote next week. The legislation follows a version passed in the House of Representatives last month, with key changes including keeping subsidies from the Affordable Healthcare Act to help people pay for individual coverage.
Prior to the unveiling of the Senate proposal, President Donald Trump said he hopes to "surprise" with a plan that has "heart." Commenting on the bill, Republican Senator John Barrasso noted "over the next week, we will be working to improve on this draft with broad input from health-care providers, patients and every member of the US Senate," adding that the proposal is a "vast improvement" over Obamacare.
The bill, named the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017, will provide an additional $50 billion in funding over the next 4 years to stabilize insurance exchanges, as well as cost-sharing subsidy payments that would be extended through 2019. The proposal also includes $62 billion in funding, which would in part help provide coverage for high-risk patients. Although the bill will maintain the subsidy structure of the Affordable Healthcare Act, eligibility will be capped at 350 percent of the poverty level, compared to 400 percent under the current law.
The legislation also seeks to eliminate funds provided to states to expand access to Medicaid under the Affordable Healthcare Act. Under the bill, funding will continue through 2020, after which it will be gradually decreased until it is eliminated by 2024. Moreover, unlike the House version of the bill, the legislation will not permit changes to essential benefit coverage, but it will allow states to opt out of other rules implemented under the Affordable Healthcare Act.
The legislation would repeal a number of tax increases implemented under the Affordable Healthcare Act, including taxes imposed on health insurers and medical device sales. The bill would also eliminate a 3.8 percent investment income tax and a 0.9 percent Medicare surtax.
Commenting on the proposed legislation, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who said the bill was "heartless" and "may be meaner" than the House version, stated "this bill will result in higher costs, less care, and millions of Americans will lose their health insurance, particularly through Medicaid." Schumer continued "it seems designed to slash support for health care programmes in order to give tax breaks to the very wealthy."
The Congressional Budget Office is expected to release an analysis of the Senate legislation early next week. The analysis will estimate how many people are likely to become uninsured in the next decade under the bill as well as how premiums for individual health plans would be affected.