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CBO says millions would lose coverage under the Senate health care bill

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) (C) talks to reporters with (L-R) Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), Sen. John Barrosso (R-WY) and Sen. John Thune (R-SD). Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

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The Congressional Budget Office released its analysis today of the Senate Republican health care bill. That bill, which was made public on Thursday, is expected to go to a vote later this week. Sarah Kliff is a senior editor at Vox and co-host of the podcast “The Weeds.” She talked with Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal about the latest analysis from the CBO. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation. 

Kai Ryssdal: So tell you what, give me the headline numbers on this thing, would you?

Sarah Kliff: Yeah, headline is: The Senate health care bill would cause 22 million people to lose coverage and it would also reduce the deficit by $321 billion. 

Ryssdal: Where does that stand as compared to the House version of this bill? 

Kliff: It is not that different. One of the things that’s actually surprising is that they’ve had a little while to work on the Senate bill, and it looks really similar. The last estimate of the House bill had 23 million people losing coverage. So that number has gone down by one million, but it’s still very far from from where we are today.

Ryssdal: Is this technically the version of the bill that they released on Thursday? You had a piece over the weekend talking about how they were revising and adding in some pieces that they had just left out because they legislated so fast. 

Kliff: Yeah, this is a little bit different than the Thursday bill. Earlier today we found out they added in some waiting periods, some penalties for people who are uninsured, and this new CBO report does capture that. And it says that that increases coverage a little bit, but at the end of day, we’re looking at really significant coverage loss compared to the Affordable Care Act. 

Ryssdal: I wonder if, as we now are in, I don’t even know what, like the third or fourth CBO version of health care bills, going back to the first House bill. I wonder if some of these loss of coverage numbers kind of stop having meaning? They’re so big and they’re being repeated so often, it’s a little bit like that old saying about spending in Washington: A billion here, a billion dollars there. Pretty soon it’s real money. 

Kliff: Yeah, and I think also one of the things that happens is you start benchmarking against what the last report said. You say, “Oh, coverage went up a billion.” At the end of the day, I think most people benchmark against reality, kind of, “Do I have health insurance or do I not have health insurance?” But I think you’re right, Kai, that you do see a bit of blasé-ness to the numbers once you get them so many times in a row. 

Ryssdal: Detour with me into the politics of this for about a minute here. First of all, is Sen. McConnell still thinking about a vote on Thursday for this thing?

Kliff: From everything we know, he is. He is charging forward on that. I think we’ll see how this score plays out as legislators get back into D.C. today and if that shakes things up. But yes, he has been very set on having this vote on Thursday. 

Ryssdal: OK. Now to the Medicaid cuts that come as a part of this bill, that is a thing that certainly Heller from Nevada and Sen. Collins from Maine have talked about being deal breakers for them. Does this do anything to get them into Sen. McConnell’s fold? 

Kliff: It does not look like it. So most of the coverage last that we see in this is from the Medicaid program. This new report estimates that 15 million people would lose Medicaid coverage. That’s actually a little bit worse than the House bill. And that’s a result of some of the funding formulas they lose, so I’m sure for those senators concerned about the Medicaid program this is not very welcome news. 

Ryssdal: Is there anything that stops this bill from passing, in all honesty? 

Kliff: I think a few senators opposing it. That’s about all we have at this point. But it’s interesting, we’ve seen these CBO reports come out, they get terrible coverage. Everyone says they’re really bad reports for Republicans. But in the House, those reports came out and they still passed the bill, so this seems like bad news for Republicans but certainly not the end of this debate. 

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