Politics & Government

SC’s Graham has other ideas on Senate health care bill

FILE - In this March 10, 2016 file photo, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington. Graham, who oversees the U.S. foreign aid budget says Israel made a mistake by signing a $38 billion security agreement with the Obama administration.
FILE - In this March 10, 2016 file photo, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington. Graham, who oversees the U.S. foreign aid budget says Israel made a mistake by signing a $38 billion security agreement with the Obama administration. AP

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham scooped Senate Republican leaders Thursday, unveiling his own plan for health-care reform before GOP leaders had a chance to unveil their revised proposal to repeal Obamacare.

South Carolina’s senior senator unveiled a proposal — co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., a medical doctor – to turn federal health-care funding under the Affordable Care Act over to the states as a block grant. It also would leave many ACA protections and related taxes in place.

“Instead of having a one-size-fits-all solution from Washington, we should return dollars back to the states to address each individual state’s health-care needs,” Graham said in releasing the plan.

“A state like Vermont has expressed interest in a state-government run and financed single-payer system like they have in Canada. If they want to again continue down that path, they would be free to do so under this proposal. South Carolina, on the other hand, would likely go in a different direction and use the federal funding to make private health care more affordable and available.”

Among the features of Graham’s bill:

▪ The requirements that individuals buy insurance and employers offer it, both part of Obamacare, would be repealed.

▪ The Affordable Care Act’s requirements that insurers cover pre-existing conditions would be retained.

▪ The tax on medical devices, part of ACA, would be repealed, but other Obamacare taxes on high earners would remain in place.

▪ Federal Medicaid funding to the states would continue to grow, adjusted for inflation. The bill would provide more flexibility to the states in spending Medicaid money.

▪ Federal money for health care could be distributed as tax credits, subsidies, health savings account premiums and other ways as the states decide.

Graham told CNN his proposal idea is modeled on the Welfare Reform Act of 1996, which dismantled that federal entitlement program and replaced it with state block grants.

That comparison worries Sue Berkowitz, director of the S.C. Appleseed Legal Justice Center. “Historically, what we learned with welfare reform is that block grants never go up.”

A block grant or changes in Medicaid today might not keep pace with the growing population of aging Americans or rising medical costs, Berkowitz said. She also worries if South Carolina is given more control over its insurance market, the state will come under “a lot of pressure from the insurance industry.”

“We might go back to the time when more insurance was sold, but the coverage didn’t really cover what people need,” she said.

Graham, who has a reputation for working across the political aisle, earlier had said he hoped his bill would have a chance of attracting Democratic support by maintaining the ACA’s spending levels and consumer rules. However, no Democrat joined Graham and Cassidy in announcing the bill Thursday.

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