US Vice President Mike Pence cast a decisive vote Tuesday that swayed an evenly divided Senate to open debate on Republican-led attempts aimed at repealing the Affordable Healthcare Act. "We can't let this moment slip by, we've talked about this too long," remarked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who called the vote after key Republican holdouts on healthcare reform said they would vote in favour of the debating measure despite lingering uncertainty about the proposed legislation.
Senators will now have 20 hours of debate to consider a number of proposals, and may also suggest amendments before final passage. Earlier this month, the Senate unveiled a modified version of a healthcare reform bill originally released in June. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the initial Senate proposal would leave 22 million more Americans uninsured by 2026, compared to current law, while the modified replacement bill is forecast to increase the number of uninsured people by 32 million over the next decade.
The Senate will also consider an option that proposes to repeal major parts of the Affordable Healthcare Act and then try to pass new healthcare legislation sometime in the future. Further, senators may consider a so-called "skinny repeal" bill that would target only the most unpopular parts of the current law, including its insurance mandates. Specifically, that bill would eliminate two mandates requiring individuals to have coverage and large employers to offer health benefits.
A final vote on the Senate health bill could come later this week. Any measure passed by the Senate would also have to pass the House of Representatives, which unveiled its own bill to repeal and replace parts of the Affordable Healthcare Act in May. House Republicans later withdrew their proposal after determining the measure had insufficient support.
In January, then President-elect Donald Trump urged Republican lawmakers to immediately repeal the Affordable Healthcare Act and swiftly replace the legislation. He subsequently issued an executive order scaling back parts of the existing law.