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Ohio's Senators Haven't Given Up On Stabilizing Health Care System

Ohio U.S. Sentators Rob Portman, left, and Sherrod Brown.

The failure of the U.S. Senate’s proposed plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Health Care Act leaves the program intact. But most Senators on both sides of the aisle say if the program is kept, changes must be made to make it function on a long term basis.

Sen. Rob Portman voted for one version of the proposals to repeal and replace the Affordable Health Care Act. He said the “skinny repeal” bill included provisions that he thinks would shore up the program.

“There was a pathway forward which included the amendment that I had included in the package that the Senate voted one,” he said. “The Portman amendment that provided ways to cover people who are leaving Medicaid expansion and also others who would be low income Ohioans and low income Americans who would need access to health care plans that have a relatively low premium but also have a deductible that’s affordable.”

Portman says he wants to make sure any future health care changes include enough money to battle the opioid crisis in Ohio. 

The Better Care Reconciliation Act included $45 billion to fund opioid treatment, which Portman pushed, but studies found that amount would not be enough to replace the rollback in Medicaid coverage the bill proposed.

Before the vote, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that 16 million Americans would be uninsured, and premiums would increase 20 percent, under the “skinny repeal.”

Three Republicans – Sens. Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and John McCain – provided the necessary votes to shoot down the “skinny repeal,” 51-49, effectively ending debate for now.

Along with every other Democrat, Sen. Sherrod Brown voted against the health care bills, including the provision Portman supported.

“You take away hundreds of billions of dollars in Medicaid and then you throw some money at the problem,” Brown said. “For instance, if someone had cancer, you don’t cancel their insurance and then use a federal grant to pay the oncologist. You want to make sure they have full service insurance. That’s what we do with Medicaid. That’s what we did with the Affordable Care Act.”

Brown says he’d like see the age of eligibility for Medicare lowered. He also thinks it’s important to attract more young, healthy people into the insurance pools and rein in prescription drug costs.

“And you don’t start by stripping millions of Americans, hundreds of thousands of Ohioans, of their insurance,” Brown said.

Following the defeat of the health care bills, five insurance companies announced they would offer coverage to 19 Ohio counties that recently found themselves without any options in the marketplace.

Both Senators say changes must be made to the existing Affordable Health Care Act to make it more stable. The issue is off the table in the U.S. Senate for now, but a Senate committee will hold bipartisan hearings in September on ways to stabilize the marketplaces for 2018.

Jo Ingles is a professional journalist who covers politics and Ohio government for the Ohio Public Radio and Television for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. She reports on issues of importance to Ohioans including education, legislation, politics, and life and death issues such as capital punishment.