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Washington • Sen. Mike Lee of Utah and three other GOP senators said Thursday they will oppose the Senate health care bill, likely dooming the legislation that Republicans had promised to replace Obamacare.
Lee and Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Rand Paul of Kentucky said the measure didn't do enough to gut the policies of the Democrats' Affordable Care Act.
"Currently, for a variety of reasons, we are not ready to vote for this bill, but we are open to negotiation and obtaining more information before it is brought to the floor," the senators said in a statement. "There are provisions in this draft that represent an improvement to our current health-care system but it does not appear this draft as written will accomplish the most important promise that we made to Americans: to repeal Obamacare and lower their health-care costs."
Republicans hold a 52-seat majority in the Senate and with Democrats expected to oppose the measure in lockstep, losing three GOP senators would kill a planned vote next Thursday.
Meanwhile, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, praised the bill and urged Republicans and Democrats to unite to fix the health care system.
Both Lee and Hatch were part of a working group charged with writing the Senate bill, though Lee complained he was left out of the actual drafting of the measure. The Senate version largely mirrors a House GOP bill, though the differences would have to be reconciled before it becomes law.
Hatch, this week, dismissed Democrats' complaints about the GOP effort while attacking Obamacare as the reason for triple-digit percentage increases in health care costs in many states, including Utah.
"All I can say is, there is a lot wrong with our health-care system in this country, but it is still the best health-care system in the world, and it is about to go down if we don't get together as Republicans and Democrats and straighten this mess out," Hatch said.
"The discussion draft released today is an important step in our effort to replace Obamacare with patient-centered reforms that address costs, provide more choices, and ultimately put Americans not Washington back in charge of their health care," Hatch said in a statement. "While this discussion draft will help move the effort forward, I will continue to review this proposal and work with my colleagues to provide better care for all Americans."
Democrats, though, complained about the secrecy and speed at which the Senate Republicans want to push their bill and assailed the legislation they say could cost 23 million Americans their health care and toss out protections for people with pre-existing conditions to be able to afford insurance.
'Meaner than House bill' • "Now we know why [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell [of Kentucky] wrote this bill in secret it purposefully makes health care worse and more expensive for just about everyone so that the very richest people in America can get a huge tax cut," said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn. "I just can't understand why anyone would run for office to do something so cruel. Donald Trump was right this really is mean, and in many ways this bill is meaner than the House bill."
In Utah, the legislation prompted an outcry from several health care providers and advocacy groups over the proposed cuts to Medicaid, set to kick in after seven years.
The Utah Health Policy Project, a nonprofit that helps residents enroll in coverage, called the legislation "a bad deal for Utah families."
"The bill will raise premiums and deductibles for tens of thousands of Utah families, while eliminating Medicaid as a program Utahns can depend on," said the group's executive director, Matt Slonaker. "Bad process makes bad policy, and this bill is a prime example."
Additionally, the Senate's rewrite limits premium subsidies to those earning less than 350 percent of the federal poverty level (Obamacare was from 100 percent to 400 percent). So an estimated 10,000 fewer Utahns would be eligible for tax credits, according to Utah Health Policy Project data.
Low- and moderate-income Utahns would likely end up paying more under the Senate's plan.
The health care bill revisions also would freeze for one year any funding from Medicaid to Planned Parenthood clinics.
"That is so nasty," said Karrie Galloway, CEO and president of Planned Parenthood Association of Utah. "They're making the lives of women more difficult."
The provision means that those who use Medicaid as insurance could not visit Planned Parenthood for health care. In Utah, those individuals make up about 5 percent of the revenue at the organization's clinics, Galloway said. That's not as high as other states because Utah has not expanded Medicaid coverage.
Still, a third of pregnancies in the state are paid for by Medicaid, Galloway said.
She fears the Senate's legislation which Galloway called "so regressive" would keep low-income women from receiving the services that Planned Parenthood provides, including Pap smears, breast exams and maternity care.
"They don't like us. They're angry at us. But they're taking it out on the women who use our services," she said about Republican lawmakers. "We provide good care. It doesn't make any sense."
More transparency • Utah Gov. Gary Herbert expressed concerns at his monthly news conference Thursday about the secrecy leading up to the release of the Senate's health care bill only a week before Republican leaders want to put it to a vote.
"I don't think that's good process. I think there needs to be more understanding and debate and discussion," he said, noting he has not yet been able to read the bill or see many details.
"The more open and inclusive a process can be, the better the outcome," he said.
Herbert outlined some hopes for a final bill.
"Affordability and sustainability are clearly big issues," he said. "We are concerned about making sure we don't buy something today we can't afford tomorrow."
He said states are also seeking more flexibility in how they are allowed to spend health care money, which he noted the Trump administration has also supported. "For me, a block grant would be the best of all worlds. Just give me the money; we'll figure it out and do what we need to do in Utah."
Reporter Lee Davidson contributed to this story.