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Graham-Cassidy Comes Under Fire In Kentucky

AP Photo/Alex Brandon
Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., center, listens as Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., left, speaks, accompanied by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017 in Washington.

Republicans’ latest health care overhaul appears on the ropes with Sen. John McCain’s announced opposition, but Kentucky critics continue to warn of the bill’s possible effects on the commonwealth.

The bill, crafted by Sens. Bill Cassidy and Lindsey Graham, received a boost earlier this week when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell labeled the proposal an “intriguing idea.”

"It would repeal the pillars of Obamacare and replace that failed law's failed approach with a new one, allowing states and governors to actually implement better healthcare ideas by taking more decision-making power out of Washington," he told colleagues.

But detractors in the senator's home state warn the measure – which undoes the individual health insurance mandate and eliminates subsidies provided through the Affordable Care Act to about 8 million consumers – masks a more radical provision that could leave states like Kentucky with long Medicaid rolls in the lurch.

"I find myself thinking of it, like, this is health coverage like it's 1959," says Kentucky Equal Justice Center director Rich Seckel.

Seckel says Graham-Cassidy converts Medicaid from an open-ended, matching program into a per capita cap system. And, he cautions, the promised flexibility in the bill comes packaged with serious cuts for vulnerable populations in the commonwealth.

"The Kentucky Center for Economic Policy said when you get to 2027, Kentucky is going to be missing $7 billion dollars," he says. "Flexibility sounds great, but when it's being offered to you, you really should ask yourself this: Is somebody putting their hand in your pocket? And in this case, the answer seems to be yes."

More than 1.3 million Kentuckians, or about one-third, are currently covered by Medicaid. In a recent report, the left-leaning KCEP also worries aloud about the effect on the individual market.

"Ultimately, the market for individual insurance would be destabilized and purchasing insurance on and off the exchanges would become difficult or impossible, particularly in rural states like Kentucky," the reports cautions.

The dire warnings haven’t swayed Kentucky Republican governor, however. Gov. Matt Bevin was one of 15 governors who sent a letter to McConnell expressing confidence that their states can do a better job of providing healthcare for their citizens. Supporters also argue Graham-Cassidy protects most of the tax revenue raised by the 2010 health reforms, allowing the federal government to maintain hundreds of billions in assistance while limiting future healthcare spending.

"Adequately funded, flexible block grants to the states are the last, best hope to finally repeal and replace Obamacare — a program which is collapsing before our very eyes," the governors wrote.

But the last-ditch Obamacare repeal effort has once again divided the state's two senators, with Rand Paul sounding a familiar alarm about the bill's costs and attacking the measure for leaving too much of the Affordable Care Act's architecture intact.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.
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