GOP Sen.: Assessing O’Care Repeal Bill Depends On How You Define ‘Better’

Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., speaks to reporters outside the Senate Chamber about President Trump's speech to Congress, during the vote to confirm Ryan Zinke as President Donald Trump’s secretary of the Department of the Interior, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March 1, 2017. A physician by training, Cassidy has introduced an Affordable Care Act alternative, called the Patient Freedom Act of 2017.  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) expressed his support for the Senate Republicans’ Obamacare repeal bill Friday, although he told the hosts of “Fox & Friends” that he had yet to commit to voting for it.

Asked if the bill bettered the state of health care, Cassidy replied: “It depends on how you define ‘better.’”

“It eliminates the individual and employee mandate, people love that,” co-host Steve Doocy told Cassidy. “It gets rid of a lot of taxes. Ultimately it’s got to be cheaper and it’s got to be better. Is it?”

“It is cheaper, and it depends on how you define better,” Cassidy said. “Obamacare had bells and whistles on all of their policies.”

The senator said Obamacare’s Essential Health Benefits — categories of services that insurers were required to cover — added “a small portion of the cost,” and that other things mandated by Obamacare “folks just couldn’t afford.”

He elaborated slightly in an appearance later with MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” He said that “folks are going to complain,” even about changes from “worse to better.” One change for the better, he said, was Senate Republicans’ proposed per capita cap on Medicaid reimbursements to the states, which would ultimately result in deep cuts in federal Medicaid payments.

He also said the bill’s rollback of Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion could push its former beneficiaries to the private market.

“If that Medicaid expansion goes away and there is no coverage, that’s a bad thing,” he said. “On the other hand, if they move from Medicaid to private insurance, that could be a good thing.” 

Still, Cassidy hedged when pressed to ensure that former Medicaid recipients would find a place in the private market.

“Is that definitely what happens for those people?” co-host Willy Geist asked. “Because you’ve got to think of a family in Indiana who is covered by that Medicaid expansion, going ‘Wait a minute, I don’t want this taken away if I don’t know what’s over the hill.’

“That’s what I’m looking at, but the tax credits in the Senate bill are far more generous than the tax credits in the House bill, so as that family moves over, we want to make sure there is not a big cliff. ‘Oh, you’re on Medicaid, so you don’t get any help.’ If we make so that you’re on Medicaid but then you move over into a generous credit that allows you to kind of float on up, actually that’s going to be better.”

“We don’t know if that’s going to happen,” Geist noted. Senate Republicans’ tax credits for individuals purchasing insurance on the individual market are less generous than Obamacare’s current subsidies.

Cassidy added later, on that point: “For access to care, it will depend upon the formulas for the generosity of that credit for the lower-income American. So let me reserve judgment until I finish saying that.”

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