After weeks of arm-twisting reluctant members and backroom negotiations, House Republicans voted Thursday to pass the much-maligned, "astonishingly evil" American Healthcare Act (AHCA), known as Trumpcare.
"God have mercy on your souls," Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) told her GOP colleagues during Thursday's floor debate. The final vote was 217 in favor and 212 voting against. No Democrats voted for the bill.
Indeed, with no Congressional Budget Office (CBO) score on how many people would be affected, and with scant time for lawmakers to even read the latest iteration of the bill (that was not ever made available to the public), House Republicans have now officially backed legislation that would do untold damage to countless Americans.
Outside the halls of power, nationwide protests were held demanding that the GOP back down from this "disaster" of a health plan while Democratic lawmakers in Washington, D.C. joined a host of progressive organizations for a rally outside the Capitol Building. Following the vote, the response from the bill's critics was immediate.
Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) released a statement saying, "I've served in Congress for 52 years and it's hard for me to recall a time when we've voted on something so obviously and intentionally harmful to seniors and working people in this country."
And Anna Galland, executive director of MoveOn.org, said: "This cruel and cynical vote is a breathtaking betrayal ... By acting to take away health care from so many, Republicans in the House have lit a grassroots brushfire that will ensure that this dangerous and toxically unpopular bill never passes the Senate."
Ahead of the vote, Ben Wikler, MoveOn.org Washington director, outlined the ways in which the GOP plan is short but a "disaster."
"It would take away health care from millions of people, cost thousands more for middle-class and low-income Americans, and strip protections from people with pre-existing conditions, all to give a massive tax break to insurance company CEOs and the wealthiest Americans."
Referring to the last-minute fix that drew reticent Republicans on board Wednesday, Wikler continued, "The Upton amendment is a Band-Aid on a gunshot wound that does nothing to solve the problems that Trumpcare would create. By rushing this bill through Congress, Republicans are creating a manufactured crisis that will devastate millions of families."
Here is what we do know:
-Even those covered by employer healthcare are under threat. On Thursday, the Wall Street Journal reported on a newly-inserted loophole that threatens to eliminate the cap on out-of-pocket costs for even those covered by healthcare through their work. This could impact as much as half the U.S. population.
"Under the House bill," WSJ reported, "large employers could choose the benefit requirements from any state—including those that are allowed to lower their benchmarks under a waiver, health analysts said. By choosing a waiver state, employers looking to lower their costs could impose lifetime limits and eliminate the out-of-pocket cost cap from their plans under the GOP legislation."
-Trump lied, premiums for people with pre-existing conditions will skyrocket. A number of so-called moderate Republicans dropped their opposition to the bill late Wednesday after language was inserted to allocate funding to help cover the costs for those with pre-existing conditions who, under Trumpcare, would be placed into "high risk pools." However, a new analysis released on Thursday found that this aid would only cover 110,000 Americans, which amounts just five percent of the 2.2 million current enrollees in the individual insurance market estimated to have some type of pre-existing chronic condition.
Claims by Trump and House leadership that the plan protects people with pre-existing conditions are veritably false, according to observers, who note that while a cancer patient may be able to sign up for an insurance plan, their treatment might not be covered. The far-right Freedom Caucus got behind the plan last month after an amendment was inserted that allowed states to opt-out of a rule that prohibited insurers from charging higher premiums to people with pre-existing conditions.
"The return of discrimination based on medical history could increase insurance costs by tens of thousands of dollars," states an analysis by the Campaign for American Progress (CAP), "rendering it unaffordable for millions of Americans with pre-existing conditions."
-Being a woman "is a liability." Not only does Trumpcare consider things such as domestic violence, sexual assault, having had C-section, and postpartum depression to be pre-existing conditions, lawmakers have also axed the requirement that insurance companies cover maternity care. According to the aforementioned CAP analysis, a pregnancy with no or minor complications would result in a premium hike of $17,060, which amounts to a 425 percent increase.
"Read closely," wrote Slate's Christina Cauterucci on Thursday, Trumpcare "reveals the basic theory that underlies the GOP's entire legislative wishlist on healthcare: the idea that being a woman is a chronic medical condition and a liability."
-It takes an axe to Medicaid, decimating special education funding. "Because Trumpcare 2.0 would cut Medicaid by a quarter of its current budget ($880 billion) over the next decade and create a 'per-capita' funding cap on groups like children, school districts are saying that the cuts would force them to limit how much they can pay healthcare providers who assist students who require special education assistance," Salon's Matthew Rosza reported Thursday.
- It's a tax break for the rich. As Common Dreams has reported, the bill provides $600 billion in tax breaks to insurance companies and the most wealthy Americans who were taxed under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
In a press statement on Thursday, Frank Clemente, executive director of Americans for Tax Fairness, outlined "the math behind the Republican healthcare repeal plan: Subtract healthcare from 24 million people. Add $600 billion in tax giveaways, mostly for the wealthy and corporations. Multiply out-of-pocket costs for senior citizens by 5. Divide all Americans. This equation didn't work out the last time they tried it, and it still doesn't work today. That's why Republicans in Congress want to exempt themselves and their staffs from their own lousy plan while refusing to wait for the Congressional Budget Office to estimate its costs."
-Lawmakers are exempt. Despite all of their rhetoric about the supposed failings of Obamacare, House Republicans inserted a provision on Tuesday that "exempts members of Congress and their staff from their latest healthcare plan," Vox reported, meaning they will be able to opt out of the new amendment that charges more for people with pre-existing conditions.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities released a series of infographics on Thursday laying out the myriad problems with the plan:
With so much wrong with it, and with so much popular opposition, many wonder why the GOP would push through a healthcare bill that will likely suffer defeat once it gets to the U.S. Senate. Addressing that question, Huffington Post's Jeffrey Young wrote Wednesday:
Anyone wondering why Republicans are in such a big rush must remember two things. First, Trump suffered a humiliating loss with the first canceled vote and doesn't like looking foolish, so he'll do whatever he can to get a healthcare win. Second, Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) early this year set in motion a procedural course that makes repealing Obamacare a prerequisite for an even bigger GOP priority: permanent tax cuts for rich people and corporations.
[...] This isn't exactly the "something terrific" Trump promised. This is what getting something done for the sake of getting it done looks like. The goal now seems to pass a bill―any bill―that the House can call "Obamacare repeal" so they can move on to cutting taxes on the rich and dumping this healthcare mess on the Senate's lawn.
"But if Trump and Ryan get their way and anything resembling the American Healthcare Act becomes the law of the land," Young continued, "the American people are going to notice that it doesn't make their lives any better―and for millions, makes them worse. Perhaps next on voters' agenda will be repealing and replacing Republicans."
As representatives head back to their home districts on Friday, the response should be swift.
As Faiz Shakir, national political director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said following the vote: "Now that this misguided legislation moves to the Senate, we urge senators of both parties to declare this bill dead on arrival. The voice of the people will not be silenced until they do."
Ezra Levin, executive director of the Indivisible Project, vowed that members of the Trump resistance movement will make sure hold these GOP reps to account. "Today's vote was just the first step in a difficult process for Trump's atrocious bill," Levin said. "Eleven days of recess starts today, and this is our change to immediately hold members of Congress accountable. We've succeeded for months because Indivisible groups across the country have been fighting back on their home turf. That's how we will keep fighitng, and that's how we will win. "
[Abridged from Common Dreams.]