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Zeldin supportive but noncommittal on the GOP health care bill

Rep. Lee Zeldin at a candidates forum in Riverhead in October 2016. File photo: Denise Civiletti

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), an outspoken critic of the Affordable Care Act and an ardent advocate of its repeal since his election to Congress in 2014, generally supports the American Health Care Act but in an interview today stopped short of pledging his vote for the bill when it’s brought to the floor of the House next week.

“It’s important to note that changes are going to be made to the bill,” Zeldin said in a phone interview from the capital this morning.

“I just left a meeting with the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, the speaker and Secretary Price, where the chairman was discussing some changes that are being considered,” Zeldin said, “so it’s going to be impossible to tell you how I’m going to vote until I find out what those changes are.”

Zeldin said he’s “primarily” been spending his time researching the impacts of the current draft of the bill “as I hear from individuals and groups with specific concerns… to find out what’s real and not real.”

The second-term congressman has been hearing a lot on the topic from his constituents in New York’s First Congressional District.

The American Health Care Act of 2017 is a budget reconciliation measure that would eliminate the mandates of the Affordable Care Act, including its minimum coverage requirements, and replace the ACA’s premium subsidies with tax credits based on the consumer’s age. It would retain the ACA’s prohibition against denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions, as long as the insured person maintains continuous coverage without a lapse of more than three months. It would also allow the insured to cover adult children up to age 26.

Zeldin pointed out that the ACHA would reduce taxes by $883 billion over 10 years for individuals and small business owners and will decrease premiums by 10 percent by 2026, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Consumers will benefit by more competition in the marketplace and the ability to set aside more pre-tax money in health savings accounts, he said.

Zeldin, who has called the ACA “a disaster,” said today that one-third of the counties in the country only have one option left in their health care marketplace exchanges. “That’s not choice, it’s a monopoly,” he said.

“I believe if you can’t afford your health care coverage then you don’t really have access to it. That applies pre-ACA, under the current law and is an important principle for determining the future,” Zeldin said.

He stressed that the budget reconciliation measure expected to come up for a vote next week — which requires a simple majority in both the House and Senate for passage — is one prong of a “three-pronged approach.”

The second prong is administrative action by the Department of Health and Human Services, he said.

The third prong is legislation that can’t be done through the budget reconciliation process, he said. Legislative measures currently pending in the House would “allow policies to be sold across state lines, lower drug costs for patients, provide additional flexibility in Medicaid for states to manage their own programs as effectively as possible and medical legal reforms,” Zeldin said. Such legislation would be subject to filibuster under Senate rules and would require 60 votes to pass that chamber. Some of those bills are coming up for a vote in the House next week also, he said.

The full benefits of health care reform being sought by the Republican majority, Zeldin said, are the “cumulative effect” of the three-pronged approach.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that 24 million people would lose coverage by 2026 under the ACHA.

“What else remains to be said when 24 million will lose their insurance?” asked Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Kentucky) the ranking minority member on the House budget committee, which yesterday reported the bill for a floor vote.

The ACHA has also come under fire from critics for — among other things — its ban on funding for Planned Parenthood, its prohibition against coverage for elective abortions and its hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts from Medicaid — amounting to 25 percent of the Medicaid program by 2026.

Zeldin stressed that the ACHA continues to pay for new sign-ups until 2020 and continues to pay for those enrollees after 2020.

“The Medicaid expansion, the enhanced match, the 90-percent from the feds that is going to New York State is going to continue so no one currently on the Medicaid rolls will get dropped from the Medicaid rolls under this legislation as drafted,” Zeldin said. “The legislation specifically continues the match.”

Yarmuth said yesterday that the bill, which provides “$600 billion in tax cuts to corporations and the wealthy…takes life-saving health care from those in need to give tax cuts to the rich. It’s Robin Hood in reverse.”

The lower premiums by 2026 will be the result of older Americans being becoming uninsured because they can’t afford coverage, Yarmuth said. He blasted the GOP for moving the bill through Congress in just over two weeks without a single public hearing.

The budget committee voted along party lines to report the bill out of committee, 19-17, clearing the way for a floor vote by the House.

Support by the conservative wing of the Republican party is not by any means guaranteed. Members have criticized the measure as “Obamacare Lite.”

Zeldin said voters last year advocated for the repeal of the ACA “all across the country… and that’s exactly what this legislation does.”

He said it would be “unfortunate” for legislators to hold out “looking to get 100 percent of what they want” on any piece of legislation — “knowing that they won’t get it and just basically voting no on everything. That’s not the way to govern.”

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter and editor, an attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including a “writer of the year” award from the N.Y. Press Association in 2015. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website. Email Denise.