Politics & Government

Moran, a previous wild card, not taking sides yet in new health care push

Sen. Jerry Moran answers reporters’ questions at a town hall meeting this summer
Sen. Jerry Moran answers reporters’ questions at a town hall meeting this summer The Wichita Eagle file photo

Will Sen. Jerry Moran play a wild card again?

The Kansas senator helped kill an Obamacare repeal bill in July. A fresh attempt to roll back the health law is gaining traction in the Senate ahead of a key deadline next week.

Where Moran comes down on the new legislation could help determine its fate, depending on how much support it picks up from fellow senators.

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana are pushing their version of repeal ahead of a procedural deadline next week. After that, senators won’t be able to use a process known as reconciliation to pass the bill with a simple 50-vote majority; instead, they’ll need 60.

That makes every GOP vote critical. Assuming Democrats all vote no, Republicans can afford to lose two votes on their side and still pass a bill.

Moran isn’t taking a public position – at least not yet.

"Sen. Moran continues to have conversations with Kansans and his colleagues regarding Graham/Cassidy and reconciliation," Moran’s office said Monday.

Sen. Pat Roberts also has not taken a position on the bill, but has supported previous Republican-led health bills.

The 141-page bill would replace much of Affordable Care Act with block grants to states and would give them wide leeway to decide how to spend the money. It would end the ACA’s requirement that most Americans buy insurance and that companies offer coverage to workers.

The sponsors say their proposal would let states decide what health care programs work best for their residents. Opponents say the plan’s cuts in Medicaid and easing of insurance requirements would cause millions to become uninsured and leave others with skimpy, unaffordable coverage.

Kansas would have an additional $821 million in federal Medicaid funding by 2026, according to estimates by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, which is critical of the bill. But those same estimates show that beginning in 2027, funding would drop by $912 million because of per person caps on Medicaid spending.

"I think at the end of the day, it’s very similar to all the previous legislation that failed in the Senate," said Sheldon Weisgrau, director of the Health Reform Resource Project in Kansas.

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office said it’s aiming to provide a preliminary assessment of the bill by early next week. But it said estimates of the bill’s effects on health insurance premiums or on coverage wouldn’t be available for several weeks.

The procedure allowing the Senate to pass the bill with only 50 votes expires Sept. 30.

The latest push for a health care overhaul comes after repeal efforts were mostly dead. Moran played a key role in helping kill a health care bill in July after facing intense opposition to the legislation at town halls.

"We must now start fresh with an open legislative process to develop innovative solutions that provide greater personal choice, protections for pre-existing conditions, increased access and lower overall costs for Kansans," Moran said then.

Whether the new bill meets that standard for Moran is unclear. But the senator, who doesn’t face reelection for more than five years, has political space to reject the bill if he chooses.

Moran is a typically loyal Republican vote. That made his no vote in July all the more striking.

"It was very surprising to me and I think a lot of other people that he was one of the names that was out there as not being on board with Republican leadership," said Patrick Miller, a political scientist at the University of Kansas.

Contributing: Lindsay Wise of McClatchy and the Associated Press