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Cruz Stands In McConnell’s Way On Health Care

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GOP Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas has proven to be a significant obstruction to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s efforts to move the Republican health care bill through the upper chamber of Congress.

Cruz and his fellow conservative lawmaker Sen. Mike Lee of Utah have pushed for a health care provision that would allow insurers to offer non-Obamacare compliant plans as long as they also offer at least one compliant plan, but senior GOP aides say that the provision is a nonstarter with the majority of GOP lawmakers.

“I would say that if we voted on the Cruz proposal, it would be in the neighborhood of 37 to 15 against, 37 no votes and 15 yeses, and that’s probably generous,” one senior GOP aide familiar with the negotiations told The Hill.

Cruz and Lee’s push to move the GOP further to the right on health care is problematic for McConnell, who must unite the conservative and moderate wings of the party if he hopes to pass the bill. McConnell and Cruz have clashed before, most notably in July 2015 when Cruz called McConnell a liar during a debate on the export import bank on the Senate floor.

Cruz has reportedly returned to his stubborn ways, refusing to cooperate on health care unless his provision is included.

The GOP currently has two drafts of the health care bill, one which includes Cruz’s provision, known as the “Consumer Freedom Option,” and another which excludes the provision.

Under Cruz’s preferred version of the bill, consumers would have the option to purchase cheaper plans that do not provide all the consumer protections required under Obamacare. The cheaper, non-compliant plans would not be required to provide protections for people with pre-existing conditions or be required to offer all 10 essential health benefits, enabling providers to offer them at significant discount relative to compliant plans.

The debate over the merits of the two alternatives will likely come to a head once the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) releases their analysis of Cruz’s plan and the more moderate alternative. Republican aides said it’s possible for Cruz’s plan to survive CBO scrutiny, but they believe it’s more likely that the CBO analysis will spell disaster for Cruz’s plan.

“Or CBO will come back and say the market will be destroyed and 45 million people will be left without insurance,” one staffer told The Hill.

Republican lawmakers reportedly felt blindsided by Cruz’s demand for greater consumer freedom because he didn’t protest when his GOP colleagues said they would not interfere with Obamacare protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

However, Cruz’s supporters on Capitol Hill dispute the claim that Cruz failed to make his priorities clear from the outset.

“From day one of the Senate discussions, in a working group that Sen. Cruz started with Chairman Alexander, consumer freedom has been one of Cruz’s major points. The idea that this is sprouting at the last minute is inaccurate,” a senior conservative Republican aide told The Hill.

Cruz distributed pamphlets at a June 22 luncheon that presented his plan as viable path toward passing the health care bill.

 

Many health care policy experts have argued that Cruz’s version of the bill would destabilize the market by splitting the risk pool in two. Healthier consumers would flock to cheaper, non-compliant plans, leaving the Obamacare-compliant risk pools burdened with the sick, who would be forced to pay higher premiums.

“If there were a Joy of Cooking for insurance, this would be the perfect recipe for destabilizing the market and turning the marketplaces into high-risk pools,” Larry Levitt, Senior Vice President at the Kaiser Family Foundation, told CNN Money.

Cruz responded to these charges last week, arguing that the federal subsidies and stabilization funds would be available to help offset the cost of rising premiums that would result from the splitting of the risk pool.

“You would likely see some market segmentation” Cruz told Vox. “But the exchanges have very significant federal subsidies, whether under the tax credits or under the stabilization funds.”

While Cruz and Lee’s proposal has received support from conservative groups, many of their moderate GOP colleagues believe the House misstepped in allowing states to opt out of pre-existing conditions protections, and are determined not to make the same mistake.

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