Burlington County Times

Opponents Of Health Care Overhaul Mobilizing Against Latest GOP Bill

Burlington County Times — September 20, 2017

By David Levinsky, staff writer

Republicans in Congress are making a final push to try again to muster the votes needed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, and New Jersey opponents of the overhaul are once again mobilizing to try to save the Obama-era law.

The opposition got a lift Wednesday when Gov. Chris Christie spoke against the latest GOP proposal, which seeks to repeal most of the Affordable Care Act and transform its funding into block grants for states to establish their own health care programs.

The proposal from Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, and Bill Cassidy, of Louisiana, also would end the ACA's expansion of Medicaid in 2020 and replace the federal funding for the low-income health insurance program with a per-capita block grant.

Christie came out against the plan due to its projected impact on New Jersey, one of the 31 states that opted to expand its Medicaid program by raising the income eligibility for adults.

Early estimates are that New Jersey could lose about $3.9 billion in federal funds if the proposal becomes law, according to the left-leaning Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.

Christie told reporters after an unrelated event in Somerset County that he disagrees philosophically with the Affordable Care Act and agrees with the concept of block grants, but that he opposes the Graham-Cassidy measure because of how it would impact the state.

Over half a million New Jersey adults have gained insurance coverage since the expansion in 2014.

"I can't support a bill that takes $3.9 billion away from the people of the state of New Jersey," Christie said.

Some 900,000 New Jersey residents could be at risk of losing coverage either through cuts in Medicaid or the loss of tax credits and subsidies provided by the Affordable Care Act, according to Ray Castro, senior policy analyst for left-leaning think tank New Jersey Policy Perspective, who said the measure combines many of the worst components of the previous GOP bills.

"It's really just a repeal rather than a repeal and replace bill. It eliminates all the marketplace subsidies, all the funding for Medicaid expansion and the essential benefits requirement," Castro said. "What is there left?"

Republicans are racing against the calendar to find the 50 Senate votes needed to pass the measure before the end of the month, as the GOP's authority to avoid a Democratic filibuster using "budget reconciliation" ends with the start of the new fiscal year.

Previous efforts to pass a health care overhaul out of the Senate crashed and burned and GOP leaders have admitted that this new bill is likely their last chance to keep their seven-year promise to repeal the law also known as Obamacare.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has yet to commit to posting the bill for a vote, a sign that the party still doesn't have the necessary votes to ensure passage. But McConnell has spoken in favor of the measure, arguing that it would give state governors and legislators the chance to responsibly craft their own health care plans.

"It's an intriguing idea and one that has a great deal of support," McConnell said from the Senate floor Tuesday.

If the bill does pass, Speaker Paul Ryan has committed to pushing it through the House as-is, and straight to the president's desk, according to Graham.

That raises the stakes for New Jersey's five Republican members, notably U.S. Rep. Tom MacArthur, whose 3rd District seat represents nearly all of Burlington County.

The second-term Republican helped write the Republican repeal and replace bill that was advanced from the U.S. House, and his work has made him a target of Democrats and others opposed to ACA repeal.

On Wednesday, groups of opponents visited MacArthur's constituent services office in Evesham to urge him to oppose the Graham-Cassidy bill. Similar "pop-ins" also were planned at the New Jersey offices of the other Republican members, and activists were encouraging people to flood their offices with phone calls.

"We're into full-scale mobilization of our base supporters and activists," Maura Collinsgru, health care program director for liberal advocacy group New Jersey Citizen Action, said Wednesday. "New Jersey is overwhelmingly opposed to the kinds of cuts and provisions in this bill. It's incredible to see this draconian bill rear its head again worse than before."

Three would-be Democratic challengers have already announced their intent to run for MacArthur's seat next year, and the one of the candidates, Andy Kim, launched a web video on Wednesday that was critical of the incumbent's prominent role at the forefront of the health care debate.

"I never thought that I would run for Congress, but I also never thought my representative from my home district would lead the charge to take away health care from millions of Americans," Kim, of Evesham, says in the video, which featured footage from a May town hall in Willingboro where MacArthur was repeatedly challenged on the health care issue.

In the video, Kim, who previously advised former President Barack Obama on national security matters, compared the opposition to the health care overhaul to the dissent to the U.S. military involvement in the Iraq during the early and mid-2000s.

"We need champions both inside and outside of government working together for common cause," he said.

Chris Russell, a consultant and spokesman for the incumbent's re-election campaign, fired back Wednesday, accusing Kim of being in favor of a single-payer health care system and "pandering" to liberal voters.

"Andy Kim's support of government-run, single-payer health care will eliminate current health insurance plans for anyone who receives coverage through their job today; will take life and death medical decisions away from doctors and patients, and hand them over to bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.; and will raise taxes by trillions of dollars on middle-class taxpayers and seniors," Russell said. "Mr. Kim's excessive pandering to far left liberals is a fundamental misunderstanding of the 3rd Congressional District. Burlington and Ocean Counties are not — and will never be — San Francisco."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Top Top | NJCA Homepage | NJCA in the News