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Activists celebrate failure of Senate health bill, urge bipartisan fixes to Obamacare



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SALT LAKE CITY — Dozens of opponents to the Better Care Reconciliation Act came together outside the Wallace F. Bennett Federal Building on Tuesday to celebrate its failure to obtain enough support in the U.S. Senate to become a reality.

About 40 people from Utah Indivisible, Salt Lake Indivisible, Ogden Indivisible, Disabled Rights Action Committee and the Utah Health Policy Project were on hand to call for more restrained fixes to the Affordable Care Act.

While the current health care law has shortcomings, none of the Affordable Care Act's replacements came close to representing an improvement on it, said Joanne Slotnik, co-founder of Salt Lake Indivisible, a group that recruits both Democrats and Republicans who oppose President Donald Trump's administration.

"Nobody thinks it's perfect. Everybody realizes it has its flaws," Slotnik said of the Affordable Care Act. "We hope this is an opportunity to reboot and move forward together."

A bipartisan bill to shore up the Affordable Care Act's shortcomings should be seen in Congress as "an opportunity (and) not a last resort," she told the Deseret News.

The Better Care Reconciliation Act was dealt a severe blow Monday when Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas, announced they could not support it. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, had already disavowed the bill. Republicans could only afford to lose two votes from their ranks and still hope to pass the measure, which gained no support from Senate Democrats.

“In addition to not repealing all of the Obamacare taxes, it doesn’t go far enough in lowering premiums for middle class families; nor does it create enough free space from the most costly Obamacare regulations,” Lee said in a statement Monday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also attempted Tuesday to drum up support for repealing the Affordable Care Act with no replacement immediately in place, and phasing out that law gradually while starting again on piecing together an alternative.

Such a move is something Lee has expressed interested in previously, as a way to compel Democrats to cooperate in the drafting of replacement legislation. But the proposal was immediately met with categorical opposition from Collins and two other Republican senators Tuesday, who said removing the law with no replacement firmly in place posed too much risk.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said in a speech delivered on the Senate floor Tuesday that, while he is frustrated the Affordable Care Act replacement was unsuccessful, he supports repealing the law before replacing it at a later date.

He warned of the increased likelihood of an approaching "congressional bailout of failing insurance markets" if the law is not repealed.

Trump told reporters Tuesday that his preferred reform strategy following the Better Care Reconciliation Act's defeat is to "let Obamacare fail."

"I think we're probably in that position where we'll let Obamacare fail. We're not going to own it. I'm not going to own it," Trump said. "I can tell you the Republicans are not going to own it."


Our message is that Obamacare is not perfect, but what we need to do now is work in a bipartisan manner to fix it in a reasonable way.

–Deeda Seed, SL Indivisible


Deeda Seed, former Salt Lake City councilwoman who is now an organizer for Salt Lake Indivisible, said the time is now to negotiate changes to the Affordable Care Act.

"Our message is that Obamacare is not perfect, but what we need to do now is work in a bipartisan manner to fix it in a reasonable way," Seed, who also once served as chief of staff for Mayor Rocky Anderson, told KSL.

She specifically cited problems with insurance markets in rural areas and the need for more federal resources to combat opioid addiction.

"There are obvious problems that need to be fixed, but they are fixable," Seed said.

Seed added that the failure of the Better Care Reconciliation Act was cause for rejoicing, especially by those who would have been "directly affected" by it.

"It's very, very good news for those of us who have been terrified, quite frankly," she said. "It looks like a reason for the (bill's) failure it people do like Obamacare, they do like having insurance."

Slotnik agreed that the bill's failure is a relief, saying "it was going to damage a lot of people."

Multiple medical professionals also joined activists to offer comments outside the Bennett federal building about what parts of the Affordable Care Act ought to be changed to improve the law.

The building, the site of Utah offices for the state's U.S. senators, has been the site of a handful of demonstrations from activists in the last few weeks, urging Lee and Hatch to oppose the measure.

Hatch never wavered in his support for the Better Care Reconciliation Act once it was formally introduced.

Republicans who had been pushing for the Better Care Reconciliation Act's passage said it would relieve increasing premiums and deductibles, along with diminishing choices, brought about by the Affordable Care Act, and reduce the burdens carried by small businesses under that law.

But several Utah health and advocacy organizations criticized the bill for $772 billion in projected cuts to Medicaid, saying it would harm the poor and disabled. Those groups also took issue with the narrowing of the definition of "required health benefits" that health insurance plans are required to cover under current law.

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office last month predicted the Better Care Reconciliation Act as initially introduced would lead to an increase in 22 million Americans who are uninsured by 2026, compared to the Affordable Care Act.

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Ben Lockhart

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