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VOL. 132 | NO. 192 | Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Graham-Cassidy Bill Withdrawn Amidst Local Protest

By Bill Dries

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Ahead of an increasingly tentative vote on the latest Republican health care proposal in the U.S. Senate, about 100 critics of the Graham-Cassidy bill rallied Downtown Monday, Sept. 25, to call for U.S. Sens. Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee to vote against the proposal.

And by Tuesday afternoon, the bill was pulled by Republican leaders from even a vote after a weekend and the start of the work week counting votes that didn't add up to passage of the measure.

The protest led by Indivisible Memphis included a coalition of groups from Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region to the Memphis Center for Independent Living to the Shelby County Democratic Party.

Indivisible Memphis co-chairwoman Emily Fulmer described the bill as “the latest Republican attack to repeal, dismantle and legislatively undermine the Affordable Care Act.”

A Monday lunch hour protest of the Graham-Cassidy health care bill pending in the U.S. Senate drew a coalition of local groups and a crowd of around 100 people to the Civic Center Plaza Downtown.  (Daily News/Bill Dries)

Fulmer said Alexander and Corker, as well as Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, were leaning toward backing the bill for political reasons – “to give their president a win.”

Alexander said Tuesday after the bill was pulled that he would have voted for the bill "because it meant more money and more state decision-making for Tennessee and would have helped control the federal debt."

“I would have voted for the Graham-Cassidy proposal because it meant more money and more state decision-making for Tennessee, and would have helped control the federal debt," he added in the written statement. "But Graham-Cassidy primarily would have affected 2020 and beyond. I’m still concerned about the next two years and Congress has an opportunity to slow down premium increases in 2018, begin to lower them in 2019, and do our best to make sure there are no counties where people have zero options to buy health insurance.”

Some speakers at the lunch hour rally on Monday in the plaza between City Hall and the Clifford Davis-Odell Horton Federal Building called for an end to partisan wrangling over such legislation.

“Forget about partisan politics for a little while,” said Southern Christian Leadership Conference Memphis president Pastor Walter Womack.

Shelby County Democratic Party chairman Corey Strong touted “Democratic values” as he criticized the state’s two Republican senators and the Republican governor.

“We have elected officials who are much more concerned about theories of free markets and making money than they are about people’s lives,” Strong said. “The reality is we have a governor who doesn’t serve our best interests.”

Rally participant Dr. Roger Labonte described himself as a “fiscal conservative.”

“I happen to think that single-payer national health insurance is about as fiscally conservative as you can get,” he said. “It will lower the cost to everybody.”

Labonte described Corker and Alexander as “good people.”

“They just can’t get away from this false ideological belief that government can’t do anything right,” he said. “It can.”

Labonte also said it’s unlikely the nation will go to the single-payer national system he favors.

Graham-Cassidy would repeal the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act in favor of Medicaid grants to each state.

Alexander and Corker were among those who voted for the unsuccessful “skinny repeal” bill this summer that would have repealed the ACA. Neither had a lot to say about the specific legislation now pending.

Alexander, chairman of the Senate Health Committee, has been working this month on legislation he said would stabilize the individual health insurance market.

Working with Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, he described that proposal as “a limited bipartisan proposal” that he and Murray had planned to take to Senate leaders this week.

“During the last month, we have worked hard and in good faith, but have not found the necessary consensus among Republicans and Democrats to put a bill in the Senate leaders’ hands that could be enacted,” Alexander said in a written statement last week.

Alexander had also insisted in previous Republican efforts to abolish the Affordable Care Act he supported that the bills preserved coverage of pre-existing conditions, even when the bills included options that would have allowed individual states to charge more for coverage of those with pre-existing conditions.

Alexander said the higher cost to cover pre-existing conditions would apply only to those who had dropped their coverage or let it lag and then re-enrolled.

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