Paul still opposes GOP health care bill, despite changes

Kentucky U.S. Sen. Rand Paul says he will not vote for the latest Republican health care bill, calling last-minute changes that would send more money to his state and those of other undecided senators as “suspicious.”

Republican leaders over the weekend tweaked the bill to give more money to states including Alaska, Arizona, Maine and Kentucky. Those are all states where senators are either undecided or have indicated their opposition to the bill that would repeal and replace most of former President Barack Obama’s health care law.

“It looks suspicious, doesn’t it?” Paul told reporters after an event in his home state before flying back to Washington. “That is going to make some people happy and embitter other people. So I don’t think it’s the answer.”

Congressional Republicans have until Saturday to follow through on their repeated promise of repealing a law most of the country knows as “Obamacare.” After that, certain rules in the Senate that would prevent a filibuster by Democrats would expire, meaning any repeal bill would have to have 60 votes.

Republicans have 52 senators. All Democratic senators would vote against the bill. So far, Paul and fellow Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and John McCain of Arizona have said they would vote against the bill. Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine has said she can’t imagine a scenario where she would vote for it.

The latest bill, known as Graham-Cassidy after its primary sponsors Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, would eliminate the mandate that everyone has to have health insurance. It would effectively end the expanded Medicaid program in more than half of the states, taking the money used to fund that program and redistributing it to states based on a new formula. And it would place a federal spending cap on Medicaid.

Kentucky was one of 31 states that expanded its Medicaid program under the current law. It allowed more than 400,000 people to get health coverage through Medicaid, prompting the nation’s largest percentage decrease in the number of people without health insurance.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has said it does not have enough time to estimate how the latest GOP bill would impact health coverage. An analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation last week shows Kentucky’s Medicaid program would lose more than $5.3 billion.

Changes to the bill over the weekend would lessen the amount of that cut. But Paul said he opposes the bill because it does not include enough spending cuts.

“If all we’re doing is shifting the money but basically keeping the system, I don’t know if we’ve fundamentally changed anything other than we’re reshuffling who gets the money,” Paul said.

Paul said he wants a bill that would rely more on market forces in the health insurance industry. He wants to let people from different states to join together and purchase health insurance plans as a group. He imagined a scenario where all of the nation’s fast food employees could join a health care association, where one person would negotiate the rates on their behalf.

“I think this would be exciting,” he said.

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