Republican senators voiced concern on Wednesday about a plan to overhaul the U.S. healthcare system, fearing a rush to consider the major legislation as their party’s leaders prepare to unveil it.
The healthcare bill will be released to the Republican Senate Conference on Thursday at 9:30 a.m. and posted online, Senators John Barrasso of Wyoming and Bob Corker of Tennessee told reporters on Wednesday. A vote could come as soon as next week, several senators said.
“There is an urgency to get this done because of the continued collapse of the Obama healthcare law,” Barrasso, a member of the Senate Republican leadership, told CNN. “People across the country are suffering pain and the pain is getting worse as insurance companies are pulling out.”
Democrats accuse Republicans of sabotaging the 2010 Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, and say the Republican healthcare bill is aimed at cutting taxes for the wealthy.
Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin said he wanted to read the bill and discuss it with constituents before he votes. “I’d find it hard to believe we’ll have enough time,” he said, adding that if he did not get enough information, “I won’t be voting yes.”
Senate Republicans have been working behind closed doors for weeks on legislation aimed at repealing and replacing major portions of Obamacare, former Democratic President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law.
Obamacare extended insurance coverage to millions of Americans through both subsidized private insurance and an expansion of Medicaid, the government healthcare program for the poor.
President Donald Trump and fellow Republicans campaigned last year on a pledge to replace and repeal Obamacare, which they described as ineffective and government intrusion in a key sector of the economy. .
Democrats hoping to block the healthcare measure in the Republican-led Senate need at least two Republicans to defect. The Democrats have criticized the behind-the-scenes meetings, and blocked Senate committees on Wednesday from meeting for over two hours in protest.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, defending the closed-door sessions, has said all Senate Republicans have had a chance to participate in meetings on the bill, and that Democrats are not interested in overhauling Obamacare.
Once the plan is unveiled, Senate Republicans will face a skeptical public that thinks the House version would be harmful for low-income Americans and people with pre-existing health conditions, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Wednesday.
The Senate proposal is expected to cut back the expansion of Medicaid and reduce subsidies to people buying private insurance. But negotiations have been plagued by tensions between moderates and conservatives.
In addition, a growing number of Republicans are frustrated with the process, saying they may have just a few days to study the draft before being forced to vote on a major piece of legislation.
Senator Susan Collins, a moderate Republican from Maine, said she wanted to read an assessment by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office on its impact on cost and insurance coverage before making her decision.
“The first concern is how many people will lose coverage and what do the demographics of that group look like,” she said.
An estimated 23 million people could lose their healthcare under a similar plan narrowly passed last month by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, according to the CBO.
Conservative Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky said he had not yet seen the Senate bill. But he promised voters he would seek full repeal of Obamacare, and “everything I hear (about the Senate draft) sounds like Obamacare light.”
Collins said the Senate bill may be more generous than the House version, because the tax credits it will provide for the purchase of health insurance are expected to be adjusted for income, instead of just for age.
She said she heard the bill may not contain a provision sought by conservatives that would restrict tax credits from paying for insurance plans that cover abortion.
(Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu and Richard Cowan; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Peter Cooney)
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