Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) held off the vote on Trumpcare. Washington Blade photo by Michael Key

Senate Delays Trumpcare Vote as LGBT Advocates Raise Alarm

BY CHRIS JOHNSON, WASHINGTON BLADE

The U.S. Senate shelved on Tuesday a plan to vote this week on a measure seeking to repeal and replace Obamacare as LGBT rights supporters continue to raise the alarm about its impact both for LGBT people and America at large.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced the chamber would no longer hold a vote on the Better Care Reconciliation Act on Thursday, delaying the vote until after lawmakers return from July 4 recess.

"We're going to continue the discussions within our conference on the differences that we have that we continue to try to litigate," McConnell said. "Consequently, we will not be on the bill this week, but we're still working toward getting at least 50 people in a comfortable place."

Five Republican senators, the latest of which was Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), declared they couldn't support the bill in its current form -- not because it would dramatically cut coverage, but because it doesn't go far enough to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

LGBT rights supporters held a conference call with reporters on Tuesday to raise awareness about the bill, which seeks to phase out the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare to pay for a tax cut mostly for the wealthiest Americans.

Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said the legislation would have a "devastating impact" on LGBT people because they're disproportionately affected by health disparities.

"Both the House and Senate versions of the bill gut core provisions of the ACA, cut off tens of millions of Americans life-saving health care coverage while increasing out-of-pocket costs," Griffin said.

On Monday, the Congressional Budget Office unveiled its score for the Senate version of Better Care Reconciliation Act, estimating 15 million more people by 2018 would be uninsured under the legislation than under Obamacare and 22 million more people in 2026.

CBO estimates average premiums for benchmark plans for single individuals would be 20 percent higher in 2018 than under current law and 10 percent higher in 2019. Those premiums would be lowered thereafter by about 30 percent -- but that's mostly because of skimpier coverage.

Additionally, CBO estimated the legislation would reduce the cumulative federal deficit over the 2017-2026 period by $321 billion.

White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Tuesday she accepted the CBO estimate when it came to budgetary impact, but not for the number of individuals covered.

"The CBO is a budget office," Sanders said. "And while it does very well at times predicting things on budget whether it's revenue or spending, I don't think it does a great job -- and I think the administration's been clear and consistent that we don't always agree that it does a great job of predicting coverage."

Sanders cited as evidence CBO's prediction in 2009 that 24 million would be insured by this time as a result of Obamacare, which ended up being around 11 million people.

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said during the conference she's "deeply concerned" about the bill's impact on transgender people "and their very lives."

"We are outraged that congressional leaders and the president would disrupt and endanger so many lives just apparently to say that they passed a bill and to give hundreds of billions of dollars to the people who need it the least," Keisling said.

Keisling also took Trumpcare to task for a proposal to bar Medicaid repayments for health services at Planned Parenthood, which she said is often the only option for transgender people seeking care.

"Over half of Planned Parenthood clinics are in rural or otherwise medically underserved areas, and closing those clinics would have a disproportionate impact on not just rural people, but transgender people who live in rural areas and have no other option for trans-competent health care or sometimes health care at all," Keisling said.

The proposal would bar for one-year Medicaid repayments to Planned Parenthood on services such as cancer screenings or birth control. Federal law currently prohibits Medicaid reimbursements for abortion services, such as those provided by Planned Parenthood clinics.

On Tuesday, President Trump held a roundtable with Republican senators at the White House and said they were "very close" to coming to an agreement to pass a measure to undo Obamacare.

"We'll discuss health care," Trump said at the start of the event. "We have really no choice but to solve the situation. Obamacare is melting down. Rates are going up."

Democratic senators weren't in attendance at the meeting, including Sen. Robert Casey (D-Pa.), who said on the call with LGBT advocates Trumpcare "should not be called a health care bill" because it amounts to a tax cut for the wealthy.

"It's a health-care destruction bill," Casey said. "It's going to rip away health care."

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. This article originally appeared in the Washington Blade and is made available in partnership with the National Gay Media Association.
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