R.I. leaders express concern, disappointment over AHCA passage

HOUSE Republicans mustered enough votes to pass their health-care bill on May 4. The 217-213 vote sends the American Health Care Act to the Senate. Pictured is House Speaker Paul Ryan. /BLOOMBERG NEWS PHOTO
HOUSE Republicans mustered enough votes to pass their health-care bill on May 4. The 217-213 vote sends the American Health Care Act to the Senate. Pictured is House Speaker Paul Ryan. /BLOOMBERG NEWS PHOTO

PROVIDENCE – As the U.S. House of Representatives passed the American Health Care Act, local legislators, officials and insurers weighed in, with most expressing concern about the new health care bill and how it will affect Rhode Islanders.

The bill, a reworked version of a previous Republican-sponsored health care bill of the same name, was passed by the House of Representatives early Thursday afternoon by a thin margin, 217-213, with one abstained vote.

Interviewed before the House vote was taken, Gov. Gina M. Raimondo told Providence Business News the Affordable Care Act was working well in Rhode Island, as it had helped drive down the uninsured rate.

After the vote, Raimondo issued a statement, saying she is “deeply disappointed.”

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“TrumpCare hurts low-income, working Rhode Islanders to give a tax cut to millionaires, and could cost more than 100,000 Rhode Islanders their health insurance. That is nothing short of immoral. I stand with Rhode Islanders and our entire Congressional Delegation as we continue to fight to preserve accessible, affordable health care,” Raimondo said.

All four of Rhode Island’s Congressional leaders are Democrats, and all released statements after the vote expressing their concerns.

U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse called it a “raw deal.”

“This legislation sets us on a path to the bad old days when insurance companies could refuse coverage to those with preexisting conditions and deny people health benefits that should be in every plan – like ‎maternity and mental health care. Rhode Islanders rely on the Affordable Care Act and it’s working here.  If they want to improve it, that’s one thing, but this House bill will hurt Rhode Islanders,” Whitehouse said.

U.S. Rep. David N. Cicilline, didn’t mince words, saying, “This is the cruelest and most immoral thing I’ve seen the Republican Party do to the American people. They just passed a bill that they know will result in the deaths of thousands of working people each year. I don’t know how they sleep at night.”

U.S. Sen. Jack F. Reed took a similar tack. “First, House Republicans failed to pass a terrible Trumpcare bill. Today, they managed to pass an even worse Trumpcare bill that fails the American people,” he said.

U.S. Rep. James R. Langevin explained what he saw to be the faults of the bill.

“The ACHA will increase costs for seniors, shift the expense of expanded Medicaid coverage to states, and create huge tax breaks for the wealthy, while low- to middle-income adults pay more for less coverage,” Langevin said. “The AARP, American Medical Association, American Nurses Association, American Hospital Association, American College of Physicians, American Academy of Family Physicians, National Nurses United and the American Academy of Pediatrics and many others have come out in opposition to this legislation because it would prevent Americans across the country from receiving quality, affordable care.”

M. Teresa Paiva Weed, president of HARI, also released a statement expressing disappointment.

“Most alarming is the legislation repeals much of the funding currently dedicated to providing coverage in the future, yet reductions to payments for hospital services remain. If coverage is not maintained at the current level, those resources need to be returned to hospitals and health systems to provide services to what will likely be an increased number of uninsured patients,” she said.

Peter M. Marino, president and CEO of the Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island, called the repeal bill “bad for Rhode Islanders” and said it could result in “tens of thousands of people here left without health coverage.”

“Additionally, the changes in Medicaid could adversely impact the state’s ability to invest in smart, affordable health care. We recognize, however, that today’s vote is the first step in a very long process and Neighborhood remains committed to ensuring all Rhode Islanders have access to high-quality, affordable health care regardless of what changes come out of Washington,” Marino said.

Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island spokeswoman Jill Flaxington said BCBSRI plans to continue to monitor the debate at the federal level and the process as the legislation moves to the U.S. Senate.

Yet, not everyone in Rhode Island is displeased with the bill.

In a statement, Bill Vernon, Rhode Island Director for the National Federation of Independent Business said, “Small business owners and the tens of thousands of Rhode Island residents who work in small businesses need lower health care costs and more health care choices. Those two changes can only happen with changes to the Affordable Care Act. The nation has started on a path forward to more predictable and affordable health care for the backbone of our economy – Rhode Island’s small businesses.”

The bill will now be sent to the Senate for a vote. Bloomberg News has reported that several key Senate Republicans intend to set aside the House health-care bill and write their own version instead.

Chris Bergenheim is PBN staff writer. Web Editor Lori Stabile and Staff Writer Eli Sherman contributed to this report. 

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