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VOL. 10 | NO. 19 | Saturday, May 6, 2017

Alexander: Senate Will Write Own Version of Health Care Act

By Bill Dries

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U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee says the Senate will write its own version of the American Health Care Act that includes keeping coverage for pre-existing conditions.


(Daily News/Bill Dries)

“The Senate will write its own bill,” the Republican chairman of the Senate Health Committee said in Memphis Friday, May 5. “We’ve already started that. The House has passed its bill. If we find good ideas, we will borrow them and put them in our bill. But we’ll write our own bill. That’s why we have two houses of Congress.”

Alexander delivered essentially the same message to a group of 100 people at a Greater Memphis Chamber luncheon at the Crescent Center in East Memphis. 

Alexander was in Memphis the day after the House passed a repeal and replacement of Obamacare that has drawn praise from President Donald Trump and House Republicans, but strong criticism from Democrats. It also prompted a picket line of 35 sign-carrying protesters outside Crescent Center along one of the busiest intersections in the city.

Memphis Police responded by telling protesters they needed a city permit since there were more than 25 people on the sidewalk. The protesters did not leave and police ultimately took no action.

The House version of AHCA would allow waivers that permit insurers to charge those with pre-existing illnesses far higher rates than other customers and ignore mandatory coverage of specific services including pregnancy care.

While Alexander says the House bill retains the Affordable Care Act’s requirement for insurance to those with pre-existing conditions, critics, including those picketing outside the Crescent Center, say the ability to raise premiums for that coverage would put such coverage out of reach for those with such conditions.

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, who voted against the House AHCA proposal, said it “allows states to discriminate against patients with pre-existing conditions and to opt out of offering essential health benefits.”

The Memphis Democrat also called the legislation a “wealth care bill, not a health care bill,” and was critical of the lack of a Congressional Budget Office score on what the legislation will cost.

Asked about the lack of a CBO score, Alexander said the Senate version will have a dollar figure on the cost.

“We want to make sure that people who have a pre-existing health care condition, which is only about 2 or 3 percent of us, can continue to buy insurance as the law says today,” Alexander said. “The only changes they made are for people who drop their insurance. It charges them a penalty to get it back. We don’t want any confusion in the Senate bill about pre-existing health conditions. If you have a pre-existing condition you must be able to get insurance. That was one thing the Affordable Care Act did that we don’t want to change.”

Alexander made his distinction between the House bill and a separate Senate bill with Republican U.S. Rep. David Kustoff of Germantown at the same chamber gathering.

Kustoff, who voted for the House version Thursday, focused most of his remarks on a coming move to repeal Dodd-Frank financial industry reforms. But he also touted his vote Thursday for the health insurance measure.

“We have no choice but to try to fix Obamacare,” Kustoff said.

Alexander agreed and was careful not to criticize the House measure.
“Senators are very independent people,” he said. “I feel a sense of urgency about Tennessee because we have about 200,000 Tennesseans who may not be able to buy any insurance next year because the Obamacare exchanges are collapsing. That’s like having a bus ticket in a town with no buses.”

Different versions of the same legislation from the House and the Senate would require some reconciliation of the two.

“It will limit what we can do. We can only repeal part of Obamacare,” Alexander said. “But we need to do what we can to lower premiums, to rescue these people who won’t be able to buy insurance – some of the most vulnerable citizens of our state. … My hope is, as time goes on we will make additional changes to the Affordable Care Act and do it in a bipartisan way.”

And Alexander didn’t put any timeline on Senate passage of a bill.

“We don’t have any artificial deadlines. We want to get it right,” he said before his remarks to the chamber. “Give us a chance to fix the problems.”

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