New health care bill focus of Utah visit by health and human services secretary

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price meets with business leaders at the Colonial Flag as part of his Utah visit, Sandy, Utah, June 26, 2017 | Photo courtesy of the Offices of Sen. Orrin Hatch, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Dr. Tom Price, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, will be in Utah Monday to discuss, among other things, the Senate’s bill to repeal and replace former President Barack Obama’s health care law and replace it with patient-centered reforms.

Last week, the Senate released a discussion draft of the “Better Care Reconciliation Act” to mixed reviews, including in Utah, where Sen. Mike Lee said he opposed it just hours after the legislation was released.

Lee joined four other GOP senators in a statement saying that the new plan will not accomplish “the most important promise that we made to Americans: to repeal Obamacare and lower their healthcare costs.”

The Utah Health Policy Project released a statement Monday saying Obama’s Affordable Care Act is “working well (in Utah) despite its political baggage and implementation challenges.” The statement pointed to St. George as one of the 10 zip codes in Utah that had the highest ACA enrollment.

However, the new GOP plan has support in the state from Sen. Orrin Hatch, who worked closely on the drafting of the bill in his role as Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. In one of Monday’s morning meetings with state business leaders, Price praised Hatch for his work on the bill.


Read more: Senate Republicans release health care bill; Hatch says plan lowers costs, increases flexibility


Previewing his Utah visit, Price wrote an op-ed for the Deseret News published over the weekend touting a top priority of the healthcare bill that a media statement from Hatch’s office said the senator fought hard to include: allowing states to tailor healthcare programs according to their needs.

The people of Utah have a long and proud tradition of knowing exactly what they are for: family, community, industry, responsible stewardship of government and the God-given right to a free conscience,” Price wrote in the op-ed. “These are the very values protected and enshrined in the Senate plan.”

Calling Obamacare a “Washington knows best approach,” Price went on to say the Trump administration trusts individuals and families to make their own decisions. He wrote:

To ensure every American has access to affordable care, we support providing targeted tax credits to those who need financial assistance and expands the opportunity for folks to save some of their hard-earned money tax-free to spend on future health needs.

Matt Slonaker, executive director of Utah Health Policy Project, said he agreed that Utahns value their autonomy but that the concept has wider reaching implications.

“It’s true that Utahns don’t like being told what’s good for them by folks in Washington, D.C.,” Slonaker said. “But that rule also applies to administrations trying to take away benefits—like tax credits that make insurance premiums more affordable, and the security of quality coverage—that Utah families now rely on. The only promise in the current Senate bill is that Utah families will pay higher out-of-pocket costs for less coverage and fewer benefits, especially those who are older, poorer, and sicker or experience a significant medical event.”

The statement from Utah Health Policy Project also said Price’s claims that Utah premiums had increased “on average $1,920 since 2013” would be an accurate comparison if plans offered in 2013 were similar to 2017 plans, but that isn’t the case.

“If premiums were lower in 2013, it was because the coverage they offered back then was far skimpier,” the statement read, “and the deliberate denial of people with pre-existing conditions benefited the healthy people who were allowed to purchase coverage.”

In a press conference last week, Gov. Gary Herbert touted the importance of state flexibility, saying “Just give me the money — we’ll figure it out and do what we need to do in Utah. We already have the lowest cost healthcare in Utah, it’s not like we’re not doing things pretty well.”

This may not matter, however, as the bill in its current form is facing tough odds. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he hopes to push it through his chamber this week, but solid Democratic opposition—and complaints from at least a half-dozen Republicans—have left its fate unclear.

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., during a press conference where he announced he will vote no on the proposed GOP healthcare bill at the Grant Sawyer State Office Building on Friday, June 23, 2017 in Las Vegas. | Photo by Erik Verduzco/Las Vegas Review-Journal via Associated Press, St. George News

The bill would fail if just three of the Senate’s 52 GOP senators oppose it. And as of Saturday, four other GOP senators besides Lee have publicly declared their opposition. Nevada’s Dean Heller is the most recent to join Sens. Lee, Ted Cruz, Ron Johnson and Rand Paul.

According to the Associated Press, Heller said he opposes the measure “in this form” but does not rule out backing a version that is changed to his liking.

Heller, facing a competitive re-election battle next year, said he was opposing the legislation because of the cuts it would make in Medicaid.

“I cannot support a piece of legislation that takes insurance away from tens of millions of Americans and tens of thousands of Nevadans,” Heller said.

Besides these five, several other GOP senators—conservatives and moderates—have declined to commit to the new overhaul. McConnell has said he’s willing to alter the measure to attract support.

Associated Press reporters ALAN FRAM and REGINA GARCIA CANO contributed to this report with information regarding Dean Heller.

Email: news@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press as AP portions. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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6 Comments

  • Caveat_Emptor June 26, 2017 at 4:07 pm

    There is a fundamental concept underlying Romneycare/Obamacare/ACA……that a vast majority of Americans have the right to have health insurance coverage, that they can afford. In the “old days” millions were getting care through the ER portal, because they had no coverage. This program created a new entitlement, that a majority of voters (not to be confused with electoral college delegates) supported.
    After the CBO does their assessment, and forecasts that almost as many people will be uncovered under the Senate proposal, as the House version, the debate will start again.
    Romneycare/Obamacare/ACA needs to be fixed, and no sane person would argue otherwise. Its central mission is admirable, but the execution was flawed. Health Insurance Companies will continue to refine their actuarial tables and associated premiums for specific: gender. age, lifestyle choices (smoking, etc.)
    All the House/Senate legislation does is gut the subsidies to help people afford insurance coverage (and the “preventive medicine” encouragement they need), and eliminate all the taxes imposed to finance these subsidies, thereby benefitting only the wealthiest Americans…..
    Remember – tax credits only help someone if they have an income tax liability to begin with…..

    • Thecadean June 26, 2017 at 9:52 pm

      Like it or not everyone is getting healthcare and you are paying for it one way or another. Unfortunately middle class americans are paying through the nose. Having spent 35 years in business and 6 of those as San Diego’s VP of Health Districts, I believe American’s are stubbornly foolish with their ideals and Money. Those without insurance will wait until it is an emergency and show up at the Emergency ward. This is 10 time more costly to you and me than if these same people were covered under some basic insurance.
      This is a Tax Cut bill. The proposed plan is to reduce taxes on the top 1 % with total disregard to the 10’s of millions left in the cold. It is economic warfare. Personally I would benefit greatly from the tax cut, but it is unconscionable to hurt so many people who are just trying to get by in life. The solution is very simple, most every other nation in the world has adopted some form of the solution.
      1. regulate drug prices. Most of our drugs have been discovered with some form of US government aid. The Hep-C cure that cost $75,000 was invented at the VA. Many other drugs are simply reformulations or acquisitions- nothing new- but they 2x 3 x the price .

    • comments June 26, 2017 at 11:01 pm

      Anyone who votes republican and isn’t wealthy is a complete moron. They’ve been the party that only represents the very wealthiest for as long as I can remember. Lower or middle income republican voters are usually low IQ fools, wingnutters, religious nutters, hillbillies, or just generally hypocrites. The Trumpites are pulling this country down. Hillary was awful, we know, but anyone who has faith in this donald and right-wing politics at this point is a complete moron. All you Trumpers are morons. Take that to the bank…

  • hiker75 June 26, 2017 at 6:12 pm

    So what if Hatch supports the bill. He does not support his constituents. I do not think he cares what people think.

  • Pheo June 26, 2017 at 11:37 pm

    This is not healthcare reform. It is a tax cut requiring some government program to cut.

    This “reform” has no mechanism to lower the cost of healthcare. The usual free market mechanisms that usually help to keep the prices in check are not in play here. The pricing is not transparent enough and there is very little choice. This bill will not change that.

    It might lower insurance premiums for some, but it will do it by offering fewer benefits, higher premiums to people in their 50s and 60s, higher deductibles, and fewer subsidies for the poor. Many of those people who will lose access will still seek out healthcare when they are desperate by showing up to the expensive ER and by needing more expensive care for their neglected cancer. So in reality, the hospitals will incur costs that will be passed on to everyone else. In the end, the only people who will come out ahead will be (surprise!) the rich.

    I have a much more effective way to save medical dollars in this country. Stop treating the sick! “Absurd! you say. “No one is suggesting anything close to that.” Is it really that different from taking away access to healthcare from 22 million people so you can offer $800 billion in tax cuts to people that don’t really need it? And please don’t respond that businesses will use that money to create jobs. Businesses create jobs where there is demand for their product. If they have a great idea that requires capital, they can raise capital from eager investors, no problem. The ironic thing is that most businesses need customers that can afford to buy their products and here we are about to pass a law that makes those people poorer and sicker.

    For perspective, the 400 richest families will get tax cuts totally $33 billion dollars over 10 years. That money could otherwise fully fund Medicaid expansion for 725,800 people in Alaska, West Virginia, Arkansas, and Nevada.

    • comments June 27, 2017 at 10:23 pm

      It’s typical republican party politics of screwing over the middle class in favor of the super wealthy. The mormon voting block will continue to love with all their hearts the party and politicians just bc they have a little ‘r’ by their name, and they are taught from birth that these are the “good guys” and the dems are “evil god-hating libruls”.

      religiously brainwashed Ignoramuses. no fix in sight

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