WASHINGTON — A 142-page legislative proposal to reform the U.S. health care system and replace measures instituted by former president Barack Obama was revealed by Republican lawmakers in the U.S. Senate on Thursday after weeks of closed-door negotiations.
The discussion draft, formally known as the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017, now faces a significant test to win support from both conservative and moderate Republicans, many of whom were just seeing the text of the bill.
At least four Republicans said they oppose the bill as written, threatening the survival of the measure unless changes are made, while stressing they are open to negotiation.
Senator Rand Paul, who was among the Republicans opposed, said the measure does not go far enough. “I think it looks a lot like Obamacare actually,” he said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the law known as Obamacare was failing and that Republicans were committed to fixing health care with or without Democratic assistance.
“Obamacare isn’t working. By nearly any measure, it has failed and no mount of 11th-hour reality-denying or buck-passing by Democrats is going to change the fact that more Americans are going to get hurt unless we do something,” McConnell said on the floor of the Senate.
“Republicans believe we have a responsibility to act and we are for our constituents, for our states, and for our country.”
U.S. President Donald Trump has made repealing the so-called Obamacare health care reforms a top priority, and the lower House of Representatives passed legislation to do so in May.
Trump said shortly after the bill was released that it would require “a little negotiation, but it’s going to be very good.”
The effort faced a tougher hurdle in the more closely-divided 100-seat Senate, and Republican senators have been drafting their own version of the legislation behind closed doors for weeks.
Democrats have been critical of the secrecy with which the measure is being drafted and the speed with which Republicans hope to push for a vote. They also blasted the proposal for what they claimed would be increased costs and fewer benefits.
Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called the bill “heartless” and a “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” warning it could make health care coverage unaffordable or non-existent.
Opponents of the changes were expected to put up a fierce lobbying and protest effort, with protesters already staging a sit-in outside McConnell’s offices.
McConnell dismissed charges that the process had been secretive, pointing to weeks of meetings open to any Senate Republicans.
Lawmakers will review the bill under a fast-track process that avoids most of the hurdles of parliamentary rules that would have required some cooperation from Democrats. Instead, they will require just a majority of votes in the 100-member chamber.
The Senate bill would repeal requirements that Americans purchase health insurance or face a tax penalty; roll back government support for state-run health care programs for the poor; repeal many taxes on health insurance plans; and block funding for a year to women’s health provider Planned Parenthood, which many Republicans oppose because it offers abortions.
Trump has called the House bill “mean” and said a final version should have “heart,” without providing specific examples.
Non-partisan congressional researchers have warned the House bill would leave 23 million more Americans without health insurance within a decade.