“That’s garbage,” Senator Lindsey Graham snarled, as NBC News reporter Kasie Hunt asked about experts’ claims that his eponymous health-care bill will hurt Americans with preexisting conditions.
Graham elaborated in a tweet:
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) September 21, 2017
Obviously, this bill is on steroids when it comes to its clunky, ever-lengthening name. To widen its reach, Graham and his original co-sponsor, Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy, reached out to two senators who said they opposed the last bill to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act (but in the end voted for it): vulnerable Nevada Senator Dean Heller and Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson, who accused Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell of telling moderate and conservative senators entirely different things about what the last Senate bill did. Johnson was right, which doesn’t happen very often.
Still, the bill is mainly the work of Cassidy and Graham. We find that Graham, once a never-Trumper and normally a somewhat sensible conservative (if that’s not an oxymoron), has glommed onto #FakeNews, the president’s false claim that the news media routinely manufacture untrue stories. And Trump, once Graham’s tormentor—remember when he gave a rally crowd the South Carolina senator’s private cellphone number?—is now praising him, calling Graham-Cassidy “a great bill,” and urging senators to back this last-chance drive to repeal and replace Obamacare.
But in order to pass a bill before the September 30 deadline, Republicans are relying on an unsteady platform of lies. First of all, that’s not a real deadline; it’s just the deadline for using the reconciliation process, which lets them pass their changes with only Republican votes. Nothing stops them from pushing Graham-Cassidy through the normal Senate process of hearings, debate, and amendments—and then having to win 60 votes, which means convincing some Democrats.
But the entire pitch for the bill—what it does, and why it’s so urgent—is stunning in its dishonesty. Essentially it takes the funds allotted to Medicaid expansion and insurance subsidies and, through a murky formula, block-grants them to the states. The states are then in charge, and may seek waivers to get around the core protections in the ACA. On the point Graham debated with NBC’s Hunt: States probably wouldn’t get a flat-out waiver to let insurers totally exclude folks with preexisting conditions—which lets Graham think he can lie to Hunt without necessarily going to hell. But they would likely, in very red, anti-government states, get waivers that let them cut back on covering essential health benefits, from maternity coverage to drug rehabilitation to chemotherapy. Thus the already sick would either find themselves with useless insurance, or with premiums that could be far beyond what they could afford.