Gov. Walker opposes Graham-Cassidy health care bill

It's the opioid news conferenceWalker speaks at a news conference earlier in the 2017 legislative session. (Photo by Office of the Governor)

Gov. Bill Walker has signed on with a bipartisan group of governors to oppose the Senate Republican’s last-last-ditch effort to repeal and replace Obamacare through an amendment put together by U.S. Sens. Lindsay Graham and Bill Cassidy

Walker joined governors John Kasich, John Hickenlooper and seven other governors in sending a letter to Congressional leaders urging them to sideline the bill in favor of a bipartisan approach to reforming health care.

“As you continue to consider changes to the American health care system, we ask you not to consider the Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson amendment and renew support for bipartisan efforts to make health care more available and affordable for all Americans,” explains the letter. “Only open, bipartisan approaches can achieve true, lasting reforms.”

[PDF: Governor’s letter opposing Graham-Cassidy]

Much of the bill is being pitched as a way to return health care policy and decisions to the states, granting them flexibility to address the problems of delivering insurance and health care. It does so, however, with deep cuts to federal health care funding and a redistribution of federal health care dollars away from states like Alaska.

The bill would transform Medicaid expansion and insurance marketplace subsidies into block grants. In practice, it’d funnel money away from states that have taken Medicaid expansion (as Alaska did) and give it to states that didn’t. There’d also be an overall cut in funding so there’d be fewer dollars, spread out even more thinly.

Walker expressed such concerns in a statement released on Monday:

“Given Alaska’s current fiscal challenges, any proposal to shift federal costs to the states would likely result in drastic cuts to our Medicaid program,” he said. “While we continue to review the bill that was released today, I am also working with a bipartisan group of Governors to come up with innovative reform ideas that can bring down the cost of health care.”

Where’s Murkowski?

Alaska’s U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski is officially undecided on the bill.

In an interview reported by NBC reporter Leigh Ann Caldwell, Murkowski discussed the potential path to where she could support the bill. She said ultimately that she likes to see more flexibility, but not when it means there’s significantly less money.

That framework, when combined with Walker’s comments would make it difficult for the moderate Republican to sign on.

She’s yet again another key senator in this process, along with Sens. Susan Collins, John McCain and Rand Paul. McCain returned in dramatic fashion to defeat the repeal in July, calling for a return to regular order, and Paul has registered far-right concerns with the bill.

The new proposal also comes with plenty of other generally unpopular changes that have been floated previously, including a provision that allows states to opt out of essential health benefits and caps on what they can charge for pre-existing conditions. It’d also repeal the individual mandate and defund Planned Parenthood for one year.

The Senate has until the end of this month to repeal the bill with just 50 votes. After that date, it’ll have to work with Democrats to avoid a Democratic filibuster of the bill.

The appearance of the last-ditch effort sidelines the bipartisan efforts that have been underway in the Senate Health, Education, Pension and Labor Committee. There, senators, including Murkowski, have slowly been building agreement on short-term fixes for insurance markets.

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