Wyoming’s two U.S. Senators have been at the center of their party’s effort to overhaul the nation’s healthcare system, and they’re still optimistic they can pass a bill when they return to Washington after their July Fourth recess. Some have been critical of their work, mostly because Republicans have been negotiating their health insurance bill behind closed doors after holding no hearings on it this year.
Flocked by an ever-growing gaggle of reporters, Wyoming Senator John Barrasso tries to explain why the GOP leader had to cancel a vote he wanted to hold on the bill this week. Barrasso says the tight budget rules they have to use – called reconciliation – that allow them to pass it with only 51 votes have hampered the effort.
“Oh, yeah. We’re committed to get this done. When you’re limited with reconciliation, there’s some things that we all agree on ought to be put in a bill. It can’t get in under the rules of reconciliation. So there are a lot of things I would recommend to strengthen this that aren’t reconcilable.”
This week Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer asked President Trump to invite the entire Senate over and start negotiations on the bill from scratch. But Barrasso says that’s a political stunt and Democrats have opposed major changes from the start, which he says also has hampered the process.
“But that just makes it challenging when the Democrats really do just say, ‘Hey more money for Obamacare.’ Even if Hillary Clinton would’ve won this presidential election, you would still have this collapsing of the marketplace. You would still have a lot of places whether there was zero or one or two choices next year and rates continuing to skyrocket. So we’d have to be revisiting Obamacare now, no matter who won the presidential election.”
Reverberations were felt in the Capitol – and across the nation – when the Congressional Budget Office dropped its projection that the GOP health bill would leave some 22 million Americans without health insurance. But Barrasso says the bill simply allows Americans to decide to go without any insurance.
“And they said that of the 15 million or 14 million immediately to drop off, those are people that are doing that as voluntarily they said, because it’s a free country, even to the point where they said that Medicaid, four million people would choose not to sign up again if you remove the mandate.”
Democrats say that’s deplorable, in part because if people don’t have health insurance they still get catastrophic health care in hospital emergency rooms, which then forces everyone else to pay for it. Wyoming Democratic Chairman Joe Barbuto argues that the bill is terrible for the state.
“I mean this is a bad piece of legislation. It takes health coverage away from something like 49 thousand Wyomingites, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Out of pocket costs would go up if this passed for middle-class Americans. We'd be seeing people paying a lot more, for a lot less coverage. So yeah, I'd say that I'm pretty darn disappointed in our senators.”
Barbuto added that the process has been as bad as the legislation.
“Well, I think it was ridiculous to draft a bill in secret. And I mean, I understand now looking at what they come up with, why they would want to draft that particular piece of legislation in secret, because I don't think it would've gotten as far as it did if outside groups and experts in the field had input on it. But it's unprecedented, it's not allowable. It's just not the way we do
Wyoming Senator Mike Enzi is one of the few senators who openly support the legislation in its current form, in part because he thinks after they pass the initial sweeping reforms then Democrats will be forced to come to the table and accept compromises on some parts where the two parties agree changes are needed.
“Well, there are a lot of people that have been saying the sky is falling for a long time but they didn't read the report very carefully. One of the prime things that we wanted to do was reduce premiums, and it said by 2020 the premiums will reduce by 30 percent under this bill. We cover people who weren't covered before.”
Enzi also disagrees with the CBO’s numbers, which he says are based on old data.
“They're anticipating that 4 million people who get their healthcare for free are going to quit. That's a little hard to imagine.”
Enzi claims their bill also opens up more access to Health Savings Accounts, which he thinks will bring more people onto the insurance rolls than the CBO predicts.
“Which is a different way people can buy insurance where they get the catastrophic coverage and then are able to put the money that they save into a savings account that can grow until they need it. And that's an option that a lot of young people can have, and a lot of young people haven't been participating. So that'll help balance the market a little bit, that also brings down costs.”
Most lawmakers have now left Washington for their weeklong Fourth of July recess, and party leaders say they want a vote on the measure before they take the month of August off from legislating. While many Republicans – moderates and the conservative wing of the party – remain skeptical over the bill, Wyoming’s senators are all in.