Sen. Ron Wyden and Rep. Suzanne Bonamici kept up their assault on Republican congressional efforts to replace the 2010 law that mandates health insurance coverage.
They were joined by Sen. Jeff Merkley — all three are Oregon Democrats — at a rally Thursday (July 6) in Portland against repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
Wyden and Bonamici also spoke later at a town hall meeting attended by more than 400 people at the Conestoga Recreation and Aquatic Center in Beaverton.
According to Congressional Budget Office estimates, 23 million people would lose coverage under HR 1624, the version that passed the House on May 4 with no Democratic support — and 22 million would lose it in an initial Senate version.
Wyden and Bonamici said continued public pressure would help their efforts to turn back those plans. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell put off a vote on the Senate version until after the holiday recess, but Wyden said, "Do not underestimate Mitch McConnell."
Both versions would cut Medicaid, the federal-state program that covers low-income people and was expanded by the 2010 law. They also would rework tax credits that help people pay for insurance on the individual market if they earn too much to qualify for Medicaid.
"But this is not a health care bill at all," said Wyden, the senior Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee. "It is a tax bonanza for the wealthy few."
His reference was to both plans' proposed repeal of taxes applying to individuals earning more than $200,000 and couples more than $250,000.
"This bill takes from those who need it most and gives to those who need it least," Merkley said. "The Republicans are giving $33 billion — with a B — tax breaks to the 400 richest Americans. That amount could purchase Medicaid for more than 700,000 Americans. That is unacceptable. Health care should be a fundamental right. A health care bill should be about making the health care system stronger, not about making wealthy people wealthier."
Medicaid also supports some people with disabilities and nursing home costs for two-thirds of seniors who have spent down their retirement savings and other assets to qualify — although Oregon is among the leaders in spending on alternatives in home and community-based care.
"if we let the far right take us backward, it's going to be harder to move us forward," Wyden said.
Coupled with proposed spending cuts by President Donald Trump, Medicaid would be slashed by more than $1 trillion over a decade.
Bonamici said while there may be federal budget savings in the short term, the nation will end up paying medical costs another way.
"Either we are going to pay for preventive care, or we are going to pay for health care in the emergency room, when people are sicker and have complications and (care) is more expensive. So we need to get our priorities right," she said.
"We cannot go back to the days when a diagnosis or accident led people to medical bankruptcies where they lose their homes and savings."
Adds comment from Sen. Merkley.