NASHVILLE — U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said Thursday he will support a motion to proceed on the Senate floor next week with Republican leaders' newly revised bill to repeal and replace Obamacare.
Corker stopped short of saying he would actually vote to pass the retooled version of Senate Republicans' Better Care Reconciliation Act. However, critics charged that by allowing the measure to be brought up on the floor for debate and amendment is tantamount to helping get the bill through.
"This is the essential vote," said Andy Slavitt, former acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under President Barack Obama. "Any senator who cares about the health and financial security of their constituents must vote no on the motion to proceed."
Corker, who had been critical of the original Senate bill's $172 billion tax cut for the wealthiest Americans, appeared satisfied with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other leaders' decision to retain the taxes to support various health care provisions.
"I very much appreciate the way Senate leadership has taken input as they worked to craft this legislation," Corker said in a statement. "As we debate the bill next week, every senator — on both sides of the aisle — will have the opportunity to offer amendments and have their voice heard."
The revised bill nods to some Senate GOP conservatives' demands that insurers be allowed to sell low-cost "skinny" health policies that don't contain a number of "essential health benefits" in areas like pregnancy that are required of health plans under Obama's Affordable Care Act.
McConnell also is trying to satisfy moderate Republican members by offering some $45 billion in funding to treat opioid abuse, as well as to provide some help to Americans facing soaring insurance costs.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, had input on the original bill and has been seen all along by many as a yes vote, even before the latest revisions.
Alexander said in a statement Thursday his "first concern with the Senate health care bill is helping the 162,000 low-income Tennesseans who currently have no help with their health insurance and the 350,000 Tennesseans who may not be able to buy insurance in the individual market next year."
Unlike a number of states, Tennessee didn't expand its existing Medicaid program, operated as TennCare, to new low-income enrollees under the Affordable Care Act, also known as ObamaCare.
Alexander said the GOP bill has $70 billion to help lower-income Americans in the individual market in Tennessee and elsewhere be able to buy a reasonable health insurance policy.
Critics have questioned, however, what those lower income Tennesseans would actually be able to afford in the GOP plan, as well as the impact on 1.6 million low-income mothers, pregnant women, their children, disabled and seniors who get nursing home care in the Volunteer State.
The Tennessee Alliance for Healthcare Security said the revised Senate bill "still guts more than $5.3 billion from Medicaid in Tennessee, ripping away coverage for 1.6 million Tennesseans who currently rely on Medicaid for health care," the group said.
"There is nothing that Senators Alexander and Corker can do to fix how devastating this bill would be in Tennessee," Dr. Thomas Phelps, a Tullahoma-based family physician and Tennessee spokesman for the Alliance for Healthcare Security, said in a statement.
He said the Senate bill "still strips health benefits from people with disabilities, seniors in nursing homes and other vulnerable people, while raising health care costs for most families. It's time for Senators Alexander and Corker to keep their promises to Tennesseans, to reject partisan repeal and work across the aisle to improve our health care system."
Alexander said he is "continuing to review this draft and will see what it costs when the Congressional Budget Office gives its report. Then, I'll stay focused on how it affects Tennesseans as the bill next week goes to the Senate floor, where it will be subject to virtually unlimited amendments."
Critics charge the GOP's Better Care Reconcilliation Act (BCRA) still will subject millions of Americans with pre-existing medical conditions to unaffordable or high deductible insurance plans and also makes huge cuts over the decades to come to states' Medicaid programs.
Moreover, said Slavitt in his conference call with reporters, the GOP's Better Care Act provides far better treatment for senators, representatives and their families compared to lawmakers' constituents.
"Are they willing to vote for a bill that they deem good enough for the American public but not good enough for them," Slavitt said. "The bill exempts Congress from cuts in essential health benefits."
While there are 52 Republicans in the 100-member Senate, McConnell cannot afford to lose more than two GOP senators, given that all 48 Democrats and independents are opposed to the bill.
Any bill needs 51 votes to pass. If there's a 50-50 split, Republican Vice President Mike Pence can break the tie in favor of the bill, which President Donald Trump supports.
Contact Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.