PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – With the help of a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Mike Pence, the U.S. Senate voted 51-50 to move forward with the debate on a health care bill to repeal and possibly replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
While the details of the bill that will actually be voted on are still unclear, the previous versions that have been released including the Better Care Reconciliation Act are estimated to leave millions of Americans uninsured, including about 40,000 Rhode Islanders.
“Regardless of what the proposed plan has been, there’s a consistent theme throughout the discussion that there’s going to be a significant decline in the number of uninsured,” said Teresa Paiva Weed, the president of the Hospital Association of Rhode Island and the former Rhode Island Senate President.
The hospital association said Medicaid is already only reimbursing hospitals at a rate of 77 cents on the dollar for services provided to Medicaid patients, and Paiva Weed’s concern is that the percentage will only decrease.
“So as that amount declines, the payments the hospitals receive declines,” she said in an interview with Eyewitness News on Tuesday. “Ultimately that…could potentially mean a reduction in workforce,” or layoffs.
Paiva Weed made it clear that Rhode Island hospitals will never turn patients away, but caring for patients without insurance would be costly.
“If they don’t have insurance, then they don’t get preventative care,” Paiva Weed said. “They show up in emergency rooms seeking emergency services because they weren’t able to go see a doctor ahead of time. It’s not an efficient use of services and it results in an unhealthy population.”.
Rhode Island’s top elected Democrats remain united in opposition to the bill, including Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, who both voted against the motion to move forward with the debate.
“Republicans held this vote without a single hearing and their bill breaks virtually event promise President Trump made on health care,” Sen. Reed said in a statement. “Now that Republicans have advanced their legislation on a party line vote, they will have to defend it, and we will seek to vigorously debate it.”
Congressman David Ciciline chided the senators who voted yes to move forward with the debate.
“What the U.S. Senate did today is shameful,” Cicilline said in a statement. “Not a single senator who voted to move ahead on this bill even knows what will be in it. And neither to their constituents.”
Gov. Gina Raimondo said she is particularly worried about the potential cuts to Medicaid.
“We have over 100,000 people who rely for their health care on the Affordable Care Act,” Raimondo said. “We’ve done some calculations, and it’s a $2 billion bill for the taxpayers of Rhode Island over a seven- or eight-year period. We absolutely cannot afford that.”
Rhode Island Republican Party leaders have given a mixed response to the GOP health bill. The party chairman has declined to take a stance on the bill. Possible gubernatorial candidate Joe Trillo said last week he supports the bill, while potential rival Rep. Patricia Morgan said she is undecided. A third potential candidate, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, has not responded to requests for comment.