Hatch says it may be ‘virtually impossible’ to pass Obamacare replacement

Republicans pushing to pass bill this week, but ‘no’ votes are adding up.<br>

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sen. Orrin Hatch answers a few questions from the media before giving the keynote address, at the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition luncheon, at the Grand America, Friday, November 18, 2016.

Washington • Just before he began the first hearing on the latest GOP health-care bill, Sen. Orrin Hatch said it may be “virtually impossible” for the Senate to pass an Obamacare replacement this week in light of possibly four or more defections of Republican senators.

Hatch, a Utah Republican who says he is still undecided on whether he’ll support the latest Obamacare repeal effort, opened the Senate Finance Committee hearing Monday noting that he hoped to have a serious discussion of the legislation and less showboating by critics. It was the first hearing in the committee Hatch leads on any of the GOP bills to change Obamacare.

When we talk about health-care policy, we’re not just talking about a theoretical concept or legislation that impacts a single isolated industry,” Hatch said. “This topic has a significant impact on the lives of every person in this country in ways that can make or break both their health and their livelihoods.”

Hatch has backed the other Republican attempts this year to jettison Obamacare’s mandate to individuals to buy insurance and change how the marketplace works. All such efforts failed to garner enough votes in the Senate to pass.

The latest bill — known as Graham-Cassidy after its sponsors, Sens. Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy — would eliminate Obamacare’s individual insurance mandate and give states block grants to set up their own systems. States could apply for waivers allowing insurers to not have to cover pre-existing conditions or essential health-benefits, such as pregnancy, birth control and hospitalization.

States that haven’t expanded Medicaid would gain more funding through 2026 under the plan, including Utah. States that did expand Medicaid, such as California and New Jersey, would lose billions over the same time period.

Sen. Mike Lee of Utah is still deciding whether he’ll support the Graham-Cassidy bill, saying he wants more flexibility for states than is provided in the legislation.

“Senator Lee has not made a final decision on the bill but the latest version moves in the wrong direction by giving more power to federal bureaucrats and less regulatory relief for states,” said spokesman Conn Carroll.

Hatch recessed Monday’s hearing moments after it began when protesters disrupted the proceeding with chants of “No cuts for Medicaid. Save our liberty.” Capitol Police removed and arrested several people.

If you can’t be in order, get the heck out of here,” Hatch said as he reconvened the hearing.

Democrats have been frustrated by the lack of hearings on GOP health-care bills. Republican leaders are still hoping to bring legislation to a vote this week, despite opposition by Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Susan Collins of Maine. Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska is a possible “no” vote.

Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, said the legislation was a “nightmare” for tens of millions of Americans and made a “mockery” of President Donald Trump’s promise that health care would be available and affordable for all.

Nobody has to buy a lemon just because it’s the last car on the lot,” Wyden said. “This health-care bill is a lemon.”

Graham, a South Carolina Republican and one of the sponsors of the legislation, pushed back, saying the bill was “not the last chance; this is the best chance.”

My goal is to get the money and power out of Washington, closer to where people live,” Graham said, noting that it would allow states to set up health-care systems tailored to their residents instead of adopting a top-down mandate.

If you want to go to single-payer health care in Oregon, you can do it — but you’re not going to drag me there with you,” Graham said.