WASHINGTON — In a potentially significant blow to the Senate Republicans’ plan to repeal Obamacare, Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., announced at a Friday press conference that he’d vote against the bill in its current form.
His statement came a day after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., unveiled the proposal. Within hours, four conservative senators — Rand Paul, R-Ky.; Mike Lee, R-Utah; Ted Cruz, R-Texas; and Ron Johnson, R-Wis. — voiced their opposition to the measure, saying it didn’t go far enough in actually repealing Obamacare.
Heller is in a different position, saying the legislation is too drastic. He said Friday that he believed the bill’s changes to the Medicaid program would dramatically affect the residents of his state.
“This bill is not the answer, and in its current form I will not support it,” Heller said, adding that it “will mean a loss of coverage for millions of Americans and many Nevadans.”
He added that “it would be very difficult” to get him to support the bill.
Nevada has been one of 32 states to expand Medicaid, and both the Senate and House versions of the repeal legislation would significantly roll back that policy by ending the additional funds states received under Obamacare. The legislation would also cap the amount of money that states can receive from Medicaid.
Notably, Heller is up for reelection next year in a competitive seat. Last year, Hillary Clinton won the Silver State, which also elected Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, a Democrat, in a hotly contested race. The state is trending Democratic, with one of the fastest-growing Latino populations in the West.
Nevada’s Republican governor, Brian Sandoval, has also been a vocal critic of the House-approved American Health Care Act for its sharp cuts to Medicaid.
“I chose to expand the Medicaid Program, to require managed care for most enrollees and to implement a state based health insurance exchange,” Sandoval said in a January letter to House Republican leaders. “These decisions made healthcare accessible to many Nevadans who had never had coverage options before.”
Sandoval noted in his letter that the expansion helped drop the uninsured rate from 23 percent, one of the highest in the nation, to 12 percent.
Sandoval appeared with Heller at the Friday press conference and reiterated his opposition to the Senate’s version of the health care legislation.
“The current bill is something that needs to change,” Sandoval said. “There is still an opportunity to make this bill better, better for Nevadans.”
Heller’s announcement potentially puts McConnell and Republican senators in a bind. With Democrats universally opposed to the Obamacare repeal efforts, Republicans can lose only two votes from their own caucus if they are to meet the 50-vote threshold required to pass the bill. And while the four-member group of conservative senators opposed to the current bill said they were open to negotiations, any move to the right could alienate other, more moderate senators like Heller.
A Congressional Budget Office analysis of the bill will be available early next week, with McConnell pushing for a vote Thursday, before the July 4 recess.
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