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VOL. 41 | NO. 24 | Friday, June 16, 2017

GOP senators complain on eve of health care bill unveiling

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican senators complained about their party's secretive health care bill Wednesday, a day before GOP leaders planned to finally release their plan for erasing much of President Barack Obama's health care law.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was expected to push for a vote next week on the legislation, which would eliminate much of Obama's 2010 overhaul and leave government with a diminished role in providing coverage and helping people afford it.

"We believe we can do better than the Obamacare status quo, and we fully intend to do so," said McConnell, R-Ky.

The effort is one of President Donald Trump's and the GOP's top priorities, but internal divisions have slowed its progress through the Republican-controlled Congress. Democrats say GOP characterizations of Obama's law as failing are wrong, and say the Republican effort would boot millions off coverage and leave others facing higher out-of-pocket costs.

Facing unanimous Democratic opposition, Republicans can suffer defections by no more than two of their 52 senators and still push the measure through the Senate. Enough have voiced concerns to make clear that McConnell and other leaders have work to do before passage is assured.

Complaints about the measure — which McConnell has spent weeks drafting behind closed doors — were coming from all along the GOP political spectrum.

Conservative Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., seemed skeptical that McConnell's package would go far enough in dismantling Obama's law, a concern shared by other congressional conservatives.

"I'm still hoping we reach impasse and we go back to the idea we started with, which is repeal Obamacare," he said. "I'm open to keeping some of Obamacare. I'm not open to Obamacare lite."

Moderate Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said she had "no idea" if she'd back the legislation until she sees the language. She said an analysis of the bill by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, expected Monday, would be "extremely important to me because I want to know the impact on coverage and on cost."

The budget office concluded that the House-approved version of the bill would cost 23 million Americans health coverage by 2026.

Aides and lobbyists said the bill would impose spending limits on the growth of the federal-state Medicaid program for the poor that would tighten further by the mid-2020s. It would also phase out over three years extra money Obama's statute provided for states to expand Medicaid coverage to additional people.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and other GOP senators from states that expanded Medicaid were still battling to prolong the phase-out of that money to seven years.

The bill would also provide health care tax credits linked to people's incomes — not their ages, like the House measure — and would provide billions for a fund for states to keep insurers from fleeing their markets. Another possibility was letting states drop some coverage requirements that Obama's law imposes on insurers, they said.

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., expressed doubts that there'd be enough time to study the bill's impact by late next week.

"I've made leadership well aware of the fact that I need information to make the final decision. And if I don't have the information to justify a yes vote, I won't be voting yes," he told reporters.

On Tuesday, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said that there's "more work to do" before the bill adequately cuts premiums. A second conservative, Mike Lee, R-Utah, complained about not seeing the legislation despite being on the working group of senators assigned to craft it.

Alaska moderate Lisa Murkowski said she didn't know how she'd vote, adding, "I have no idea what the deal is." She has opposed past conservative efforts to include language barring federal payments to Planned Parenthood, a group many Republicans abhor because it provides abortions.

___

Associated Press writers Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Richard Lardner contributed to this report.

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