Tennessee lawmakers still reviewing CBO report on Senate health care bill

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., left, and Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., leave a 2012 news conference on Capitol Hill. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

NASHVILLE - While Democrats and other critics used the Congressional Budget Office's analysis of U.S. Senate Republicans' health care bill to assail the legislation and exert pressure on GOP lawmakers, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., late Monday afternoon called the report "helpful information for every senator to consider."

CBO said some 15 million people could lose health insurance coverage nationally in 2018 alone. But Alexander said in a statement he is "encouraged that CBO says premiums would begin to fall under this bill starting in 2020, especially in states that take advantage of the new flexibility available under the bill."

Alexander, who is chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, also emphasized "it's important to remember that the alternative to this bill is current law that leaves 162,000 Tennesseans who make less than $12,000 a year without aid to buy insurance, and as many as 350,000 Tennesseans in the individual market facing the real possibility of having zero insurance options next year."

But Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., charged via Twitter that the "CBO score confirms #Trumpcare will lead to higher costs for less care & tens of mils of Americans will be left without health insurance."

In addition to finding 22 million fewer people would have insurance under the bill by 2026, CBO said cuts to the Medicaid health program for the poor would reach $772 billion by 2026.

The CBO analysis also doesn't see many of the people losing Medicaid eligibility under the Senate GOP plan as being able to purchase insurance on the individual market "because of the expense for premiums and the high deductibles."

In Tennessee, the nonpartisan Sycamore Institute looked at the implications of the House bill on the state. It noted the House plan's caps on Medicaid - the Senate GOP plan goes further - "would likely increase pressure on Tennessee's state budget, which could disproportionately affect rural areas and enrollees with disabilities."

Over a 10-year period, TennCare, the state's Medicaid program, which now covers an estimated 1.5 million low-income mothers and their children as well the disabled and the elderly poor, could lose as much as $3.2 billion, according to the Sycamore Institute analysis.

Micah Johnson, spokeswoman for Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said the former Chattanooga mayor is "inviting all Tennesseans to read the discussion draft and provide input at corker.senate.gov.

"Additionally, our office has reached out to hundreds of individuals, including patient advocacy groups, hospitals, physicians, insurers, and state health, finance and insurance officials," Johnson said in her email.

Corker is "reviewing the CBO report and will make a decision based on whether the final version of the legislation, on the whole, is better than what is in place today," Johnson said.

The American Medical Association, the nation's largest organization of doctors, already has sharply attacked the Senate bill, a follow up to the previously passed House Republican bill.

"Medicine has long operated under the precept of Primum non nocere, or 'first, do no harm.' The draft legislation violates that standard on many levels," American Medical Association CEO James Madara wrote in a letter to McConnell and Schumer.

Tennessee advocates for Medicaid enrollees are raising concerns as well as some families who have gotten their coverage through the federal health care exchanges.

The Tennessee Hospital Association has raised concerns it could lead to more hospital closures in rural parts of the state.

U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., is "reviewing the bill, the newly released CBO score and the input he's received from various stakeholders in Georgia," said Isakson's spokeswoman, Amanda Maddox, in an email. "He will provide feedback and make a decision based on the totality of the information once he's had a chance to carefully review."

U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., wasn't placing too much faith in CBO's score, noting that in 2010 the nonpartisan agency "overshot its projection of how many people would gain insurance by more than 12 million people" on Obamacare.

"It's clear the CBO cannot predict the purchasing patterns for millions of Americans," Perdue said in a statement. "Just like the House CBO score earlier this year, this bureaucratic analysis will do nothing to prevent Obamacare from failing."

Perdue said 96 of Georgia's 159 counties have only one insurer within the Obamacare exchanges, "leaving hundreds of thousands of Georgians with no competition to choose from for their health insurance. Nationwide, 40 percent of counties will only have one insurer to choose from in the exchange next year.

"The bottom line is, Obamacare isn't working and we have to act to put our health care system back on a solid foundation," Perdue said.

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.