Brianna Stearns

Thursday, May 25, 2017

CBO: GOP health bill could cost 23 million coverage; 400,000 in Arizona

WASHINGTON – The Republican plan to replace Obamacare will force as many as 23 million Americans off health insurance over the next decade, the Congressional Budget Office reported, with local experts predicting more than 400,000 of those will be in Arizona.

The long-awaited CBO “score” said the GOP’s American Health Care Act would save federal funds by cutting deeply into Medicaid, which one report said covers up to one in five Americans, many of them children.

Democrats and supporters of the Affordable Care Act – or Obamacare – pounced on the report, which they said shows the GOP plan would “leave millions uninsured, roll back basic coverage, and increase premiums for the most vulnerable populations” to fund tax cuts.

“About 20 million people nationally are going to lose their coverage if this budget goes through, like I said over 400,000 of them are here in Arizona,” said DJ Quinlan, a spokesman for the Arizona Alliance for Healthcare Security. “And we think that affect will be pretty devastating to Arizona working families.”

But Republicans dismissed the CBO report, saying it does not take into account improvements at the state level that will offset the cuts under their bill and noting that the CBO has been wrong before in its predictions about Obamacare.

“The 23 million claim, there is a lot more to it than what that sounds like,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a news conference Thursday. “What I’m encouraged by is the CBO said we’ve hit our budget target and then some.

“The CBO says we’re going to drop premiums. They’re going to give states like Wisconsin flexibility to get premiums down,” Ryan said. “What CBO just told us is the reforms put in this bill will help lower premiums so I’m very encouraged by that.”

The CBO report did say that the American Health Care Act will save $1.5 trillion in federal spending over the next decade by cutting Medicaid funding to states. But those cuts are what will drive 23 million Americans off their coverage over the same 10 years, the report, with the bulk of those losing coverage in fiscal 2018.

Medicaid covers one in five Americans and nearly half of those are children, according to the Kaiser Foundation. More than 70 million Americans total are covered by Medicaid and will be affected by these cuts.

The expansion of Medicaid under the ACA had allowed for a sharp drop in the number of uninsured, according to data from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which said that in Arizona the number fell nearly 36 percent from 2013 to 2015.

“The Congressional Budget Office’s score … confirms what we had known all along; dismantling our healthcare system will leave millions uninsured, roll back basic coverage, and increase premiums for the most vulnerable populations,” said Rep. Raul M. Grijalva, D-Tucson, in a statement released Wednesday.

Quinlan questioned the motives behind the cuts.

“Are they just trying to save money? No, actually what they’re doing is their cutting about $890 billion of taxes only to the top income earners in America, the top couple percent,” Quinlan said. “And to pay for it their basically gutting health care for middle class and low income families.”

Democrats had complained that Republicans pushed through the vote on the AHCA – it passed the House May 4 on a 217-213 vote – because the GOP leadership knew findings of the CBO report would be damaging.

But one critic of Obamacare said she thinks the CBO are inflated.

“I’ve been very concerned about the CBO numbers, what the projections are and actually what things turn out to be,” said Sally Pipes, president of the Pacific Research Institute, a think tank that advocates for free-market policies.

“They’ve predicted that the number of people on the exchanges in 2016 would be about 21 million, and in fact it was about 10.5 to 11 million. So almost half. And then they predicted for 2017 this year that there would be 25 million people on the exchanges, and in fact there was about 12.2 million people,” Pipes said. “So also about half.

“So whether the CBO number is accurate … I don’t know,” she said.

The report came the same week that President Donald Trump released a fiscal 2018 budget proposal that calls for deep cuts to several domestic program, including $610 billion from Medicaid. But a Department of Health and Human Services budget brief said the cuts would be balanced by giving states “resources and flexibility they need to care for the most vulnerable in their communities through Medicaid.”

The Senate has yet to vote on the House health care measure.

– Cronkite News reporter J.T. Lain contributed to this report.

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