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In York, Casey vows fight in Senate to save Obamacare

Jana Benscoter

Detailed discussions about what will become of the nation’s health care law haven’t germinated in the U.S. Senate yet, Sen. Bob Casey said in York City on Friday, a day after the GOP-controlled House passed a bill to begin the process of dismantling "Obamacare."

Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., tells York leaders Friday, May 5, 2017, about bills he's working on that are focused on women in the workforce. Jana Benscoter photo.

However, the Pennsylvania Democrat said he will vigorously oppose the replacement American Health Care Act when the time comes.

In spite of 20 House Republicans defecting from the GOP plan, the 217-213 majority vote Thursday was enough to begin the process of repealing the Affordable Care Act, known as "Obamacare." Senators are up next to either resist or pass the Republicans’ second attempt at executing health care policy.

Both chambers have their own identity politically and procedurally. Casey said he foresees a contentious struggle in the Senate to advance the House plan in its current form.

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“We’re going to have a long debate in the Senate about this,” Casey predicted. He added, “I am against any repeal” of the Affordable Care Act.

A look at the House Republican health care bill

Casey was visiting York City leaders Friday to discuss three of his bills that focus on women in the workforce. The last time Casey was in York was late last year, when he attended an event on the opioid crisis, said Casey’s press secretary, Jacklin Rhoads.

Speaking about his opposition to the American Health Care Act, Casey said it doesn’t pass muster for the following reasons:

  • It’s designed to give enormous tax breaks to the super rich and corporations.
  • Greater consumer protections currently under ACA are gone.
  • The heath sector is in jeopardy of losing jobs.
  • Millions who rely upon Medicaid — where funding is proposed to be scaled back — will suffer.

“It’s a bad bill for our economy,” Casey said.

He said that rural Pennsylvania hospitals, which are often the largest employers in their communities, will falter because the GOP plan doesn’t hold individuals and businesses accountable.

Without the ACA's individual mandate, which requires most Americans to carry health insurance or face financial penalties, all aspects of the health care sector will suffer, Casey said.

The House bill would end the Obama law’s fines on people who don’t purchase policies and erase its taxes on health industry businesses and higher-earning people. It would loosen consumer-friendly insurance coverage requirements, letting states permit insurers to charge higher premiums for customers with pre-existing medical conditions.

“The best way to protect the remarkable gains that we made in 2010 with pre-existing conditions is to maintain current law,” Casey said.

The Republican edge in the Senate is 52-48. Using special rules, the Senate could pass its version of the bill with just 50 votes and rely on Vice President Mike Pence to break a tie. But that means they can lose just two GOP senators, assuming Democrats uniformly oppose scrapping Obama’s signature domestic achievement.

Unlike congressional members, senators represent entire states — something that's likely to be on senators' minds ahead of the 2018 mid-term elections. Their votes tend to reflect more pragmatic views than those of their House colleagues. A handful of GOP senators are already working on different wording than what their GOP House colleagues wrote.

Another point of contention most likely to arise is Medicaid, which supplies supplemental funding to low-income Americans. Many of the 31 states that accepted Obama’s expansion of that program are currently led by GOP governors and senators, who seemingly have no interest in cutting their states’ funds and taking coverage away from voters.

Republican senators also represent states ravaged by deaths caused by opioid abuse. The House measure would let states escape Obamacare’s requirement that insurers cover anti-drug services.

Casey said he believes the “group after group” of health organizations that say the Republican House bill is bad legislation. Agreement in the Senate, Casey said, should be to work on affordability, meaning lower premiums and lower co-pays, as well as viability of the federal Medicaid program.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.