Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky walks onto the U.S. Senate floor Thursday following a meeting with Senate Republicans on their long-awaited health care plan. The Congressional Budget Office has now said that plan could lead to 22 million fewer insured Americans, which could include 680,000 Georgians. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Photo: Andrew Harnik
Photo: Andrew Harnik

Senate health plan may leave 680,000 more Georgians without insurance

After two high-profile revisions, the GOP health care plan is still expected to lead to hundreds of thousands more Georgians losing health insurance.

The Congressional Budget Office released its score of the Senate plan’s impacts late Monday. The nonpartisan office estimated that 22 million more Americans would be without health insurance at the end of 10 years if the plan becomes law. Georgia’s share of that figure is 680,000 or so, according to a health care analyst who has been following the debate, Bill Custer of Georgia State University.

Georgia advocates for rural hospitals, patients and others likely to feel the cuts howled.

“This legislation represents a giant leap backward from what Americans have come to expect and demand from their healthcare delivery system,” Earl Rogers, president of the Georgia Hospital Association, said in a statement.

“Cuts to Medicaid take resources away from the entire healthcare delivery system, so tough decisions will have to be made regarding which services to scale back or eliminate entirely,” he added, cutbacks “that will affect all patients.”

The CBO score was long expected to be a tough moment for GOP leaders and other defenders of the plan. They questioned the report’s credibility.

Following the CBO announcement Monday, the White House released a statement lambasting the CBO’s track record. Georgia U.S. Sen. David Perdue, a close ally on the health care law repeal effort, echoed, “It’s clear the CBO cannot predict the purchasing patterns for millions of Americans.”

In Georgia, Kelly McCutchen, the president of the libertarian-leaning Georgia Public Policy Foundation, was more measured, though he did note some numeric assumptions in the report that he said didn’t bear out. He also cautioned that the Senate had already released at least one revision to the draft that the CBO couldn’t take into account, and it was likely to sway the numbers.

“They generally do a good job,” McCutchen said of the CBO. He said, however, that once that revision is taken into account, “I think you’ll see the uninsured rate will go down.”

Custer, who estimated the Georgia share of the national number, was skeptical that was so. He said it needed more study, though.

McCutchen also noted a provision of the plan that he said would lessen the health spending disparity between Georgia and other states. Georgia is among the lowest in the country for spending per Medicaid enrollee.

On the up side, the plan would lower the deficit by $321 billion, the federal office found. That deficit cut is a small sliver of what would be needed for a meaningful deficit reduction. But the federal deficit has exploded in the past two decades, and spending on wars and entitlements such as Medicaid have been big drivers of that. The CBO also found that the proposal delivers on its goal to cut taxes, mostly for the wealthy.

That, however, helped feed criticism from Jimmy Lewis, the CEO of Hometown Health, a coalition of rural hospitals. “This is a payment system for a tax reform as opposed to the health reform,” Lewis said. “And rural hospitals are going to take it on the chin.”

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