Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has “reservations” about privatizing Medicare, she told the Portland Press Herald.
“Suffice it to say I have a number of reservations,” Collins told the newspaper. “A complete upending of a program (Medicare) that by and large serves seniors well is not something that appeals to me.”
Collins’ comments signals an early and significant departure from GOP unity on the issue, which will be needed to overhaul something like Medicare and will be essential to repealing and replacing Obamacare. If Republicans lose too many lawmakers on these topics, they won’t be able to follow through with promises to gut Obamacare.
Collins said she had voted against similar proposals to voucherize Medicare in the past.
Privatizing Medicare has become a hot-button topic on Capitol Hill. While President-elect Trump didn’t campaign on it, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) has said publicly he would like to make it a top priority and Trump’s pick for secretary of Health and Human Services, Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), has been a strong advocate for such programs. Under Ryan’s past plans, seniors would receive a set amount of money to purchase health care on a private market. Many health policy experts warn such a plan could transfer more out-of-pocket costs onto seniors.
In the interview, Collins also revealed she was uneasy about repealing Obamacare if Republicans hadn’t drafted legislation to replace it. That’s significant because every Republican member matters a lot when it comes to repealing Obamacare. One of the strategies up for discussion right now among Senate Republicans is to repeal Obamacare in January using budget reconciliation, a special process that only requires 51 votes in the Senate, and then give senators up to three years to replace it.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) has warned that could be problematic. He’s urged a bit of patience among his colleagues to ensure individuals covered by Obamacare now aren’t hurt in the process.
“It strikes me as a more cautious approach,” Collins told the Herald, hinting that she may not be able to support a repeal without a concrete replacement plan.
Collins noted she had not made a final decision.
Collins is among the most moderate Republicans in the U.S. Senate; however, her concerns about repealing Obamacare too fast and privatizing Medicare may underscore some growing unease within GOP ranks.
Assuming Republicans hold the Senate seat in Louisiana in next week’s runoff, Republicans only have 52 votes. The GOP can only afford to lose three members or they cannot repeal Obamacare at all.