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Senate begins debate on ‘skinny repeal’ of Obamacare

WASHINGTON — The Senate began debating a bill late Thursday that would repeal limited portions of Obamacare and ban federal funding for Planned Parenthood as Republican leaders scrambled to pass legislation this week.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the bill ends the mandates that individuals buy health insurance and that larger employers offer affordable coverage to their workers. He said it also provides more flexibility to states in providing medical care to low-income Americans and repeals the medical device tax for three years while increasing the amount of money that people can contribute to Health Savings Accounts.

It was not immediately clear whether the bill could win over both moderates and conservatives within McConnell’s party. A vote was expected after midnight.

The provision to defund Planned Parenthood is bound to draw opposition from moderate GOP Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. The bill also may not go far enough to satisfy conservatives since it still contains Obamacare subsidies, its expansion of Mediciaid and most of the law’s taxes.

“The American people have suffered under Obamacare for too long,” McConnell said in a speech on the Senate floor Thursday night. “It’s time to end the failed status quo. It’s time to send legislation to the president that will finally move our country beyond the failures of Obamacare. Passing this legislation will allow us to work with our colleagues in the House toward a final bill that can go to the president, repeal Obamacare, and undo its damage.”

The American Medical Association immediately denounced the bill.

“The so-called ‘skinny’ bill is a toxic prescription that would make matters worse,” said AMA President David Barbe. “Eliminating the individual mandate will lead to adverse selection, triggering higher premiums and further destabilizing the individual market. The stated goal was to advance policies to lower premiums, but the ‘skinny’ bill would do the exact opposite, harming patients across the country.”

Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. and Ron Johnson, R-Wis., announced earlier in the evening that they would not support a “skinny repeal” bill unless they had a guarantee the House will actually start negotiations and not simply pass the Senate bill and send it to President Trump.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., tried to provide that assurance by saying the House would be “willing” to go to conference if that was what was required to move a bill forward. That won over Graham and Johnson, but McCain said it didn’t go far enough in assuring him that the House wouldn’t vote on the skinny repeal at some point.

Graham told reporters that passing a scaled-down version of a bill that would repeal Obamacare “politically would be the dumbest thing in history.”

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