Politics & Government

Sen. Pat Roberts: Republican health bill ‘better than socialized medicine’

Sen. Pat Roberts didn’t say Monday if he would support a Republican bill overhauling federal health care law as a possible vote looms this week.

But Roberts, seizing on the increasing number of Democrats calling for a single-payer health system, said the bill is better than “socialized medicine.” Senate Democrats, led by Sen. Bernie Sanders, introduced a separate “Medicare for all” bill this month.

Roberts’ comments during a Senate hearing on the GOP bill, known as Graham-Cassidy, suggest he doesn’t have any significant objections. Roberts has given no indication he will oppose the bill, after he supported previous Republican-led efforts to abolish the Affordable Care Act.

He made comments to the news site Vox last week where he appeared to all but endorse the bill, calling it the “best possible bill under the circumstances.”

The Senate must vote by Saturday in order to use a parliamentary procedure that allows the chamber to pass the bill with 50 votes, instead of 60. But the legislation appears in jeopardy of falling short of the necessary votes.

“This is about much more than trying to fulfill campaign promises, I think,” Roberts said. “Simply put, the Affordable Health Care Act is not affordable. It’s failing the very people it promised to help.”

Roberts said he is continuing to review the current proposal and get feedback. He did not say how he would vote.

“What I am positive of is this proposal that we have before us certainly is better than socialized medicine,” Roberts said.

Sen. Jerry Moran has said he is undecided on the bill. His opposition helped kill an earlier Republican health bill this summer.

GOP Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham are leading the charge on the bill. They released an updated version over the weekend in an effort to generate support.

The bill would eliminate former President Barack Obama’s expansion of Medicaid and subsidies the law provides to millions to reduce their insurance costs. Instead, block grants would be given to states with few strings on how the money would be spent.

The revamped proposal gives states more freedom to charge higher premiums for older and seriously ill people and to sell skimpy, lower-cost policies. The initial version required federal approval for such action.

It would also let states raise limits the current law has placed on consumers’ out-of-pocket costs.

Under one version of the bill, 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.

“Graham-Cassidy will have a profound adverse impact on the Kansas health system and the Kansans who rely on it,” the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas said in a statement to the Senate committee.

“While it appears that Kansas receives extra federal support in the early years of the bill, this funding is far less than what the state would receive if it expanded Medicaid, which is prohibited under this legislation. Make no mistake, the Graham-Cassidy proposal will be devastating to Kansas.”

The bill’s chances appear in doubt. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said he remained opposed to the bill, despite the new version released over the weekend.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona also said previously he won’t support Graham-Cassidy. Sen. Ted Cruz has also said he will oppose it.

Other GOP senators appear likely to vote no as well. Supporters can only lose three Republican votes, because Democrats are expected to uniformly oppose the measure.

Jonathan Shorman: 785-296-3006, @jonshorman