Sen. Rob Portman says he's open to new, last-ditch Obamacare replacement bill

WASHINGTON— Republican Sen. Rob Portman said Tuesday he’s open to a new Obamacare replacement bill – even though the last-ditch GOP proposal does not include several key provisions he advocated for earlier this summer.

At issue is legislation, introduced by Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Bill Cassidy, R-La., that would keep most of the Obamacare taxes in place, but return that revenue to the states in the form of block grants.

The bill would nix many of the Obamacare regulations—including the individual and employer mandates—and allow states to design their own health care systems. States could, for example, bypass protections for those with pre-existing conditions by letting insurance companies charge sick patients more than they currently can under Obamacare's consumer protections.

In a call with reporters on Tuesday, Portman said he was still reviewing the bill but liked the concept of returning power and money to the states.

“Giving the states more flexibility is something I generally have been supportive of,” said Portman, who opposed earlier GOP repeal and replace proposals. “It’s very different than the other bills.”

Portman said increased funding for opioid addiction treatment was critical to win his support for any GOP replacement bill.

The Graham-Cassidy bill does not include any new opioid money.

Portman, of Terrace Park, said earlier GOP proposals did not do enough to create a “soft landing” for those who might lose Medicaid coverage under Ohio’s expansion. That expansion has helped about 700,000 Ohioans—including many suffering from mental health disorders and opioid addiction—get access to health care and treatment. 

The new legislation would also phase out Medicaid expansion—immediately blocking new states from expanding Medicaid and halting the existing state expansions in 2020. Instead, states would receive a block grant, through 2026, to devise their own way of helping residents who received Obamacare coverage either through Medicaid or with private insurance subsidies.

The Graham-Cassidy legislation would also change the way traditional Medicaid is funded. Instead of reimbursing states for most of the cost of caring for Medicaid recipients, the federal government would send states a per capita allotment with limited growth.

In a tweet, Ohio Gov. John Kasich said the bill would eliminate “the guardrails that protect some of the most vulnerable among us.” Kasich, who has been an outspoken critic of the GOP’s push to repeal Obamacare, said Republicans should drop the partisan approach and work with Democrats on consensus solutions.

Portman said that under the Graham-Cassidy proposal, Ohio would be able to continue its expansion of Medicaid—or phase that out—depending on what the next governor and state legislators decide is best.

He seemed to dismiss questions about how the state would do that with less money.

He said it’s not clear yet whether Ohio would be more funding, or less, under the Graham-Cassidy proposal.

“I am reviewing it still, because I want to make sure the numbers work for Ohio,” Portman said. 

“We can’t just throw in the towel and do nothing,” Portman added.

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