Wyoming's two senators are set to play a key role in the Republican effort to repeal and replace Obamacare. Senate Republicans, led by Senator Mike Enzi took their first steps towards repealing the Affordable Care Act in a late night session.
Enzi called it a necessary first step. “The problem that we have is that the bridge of Obamacare is collapsing, and the first thing you do when a bridge is collapsing is send out a rescue team. And that’s all we did: we sent out a rescue team. Now the rescue team has to see that people don’t fall into the river and that we get a number of different ways of getting across that same river.”
As for that rescue team? Democrats say they've been given an impossible task if Republicans repeal the health law before replacing it. But Enzi counters that the GOP plan is much less complicated than the comprehensive attempt Democrats passed under President Obama.
“It’s only hard to grasp if you’re anticipating that we’re going to do a 2,700 page bill to fix it all at once. We’re going to take the most critical parts and fix them as fast as we can, but parts is what we’re talking about – different bridges going across the river.”
While president-elect Trump has talked about lowering prescription drug costs, Enzi says he’s pushing things like health savings accounts, buying insurance across state lines and setting up regional health associations – or pools. He said he’s been floating those ideas for a decade and he’s got proof.
“When I got home last night my wife had found this button, which is “10 steps, 10 stops to transform healthcare in America.” And I did that over 10 years ago as we came up with a plan for, and I worked with Senator Kennedy on this, a plan where we can get everyone who wanted insurance to have insurance. Now we found that there are some people who didn’t want insurance, and we didn’t feel compelled to force them to have insurance.”
As for the politics of the GOP's replacement effort, Wyoming's junior senator, John Barrasso, is a part of the Republican leadership team in the upper chamber. While he's a doctor, he's also been key to the party's anti-Obamacare messaging campaign over the past few election cycles.
“We want to protect patients. No one is going to lose their insurance, after we repeal this, the next day.”
Did you hear Barrasso catch himself there? Most Republican leaders have been trying not to over promise - like on telling the 20 some odd million people who got insurance under Obamacare that they won't lose their insurance "the next day," as in they may lose that insurance down the road.
Democrats say the GOP has produced no plan to keep those millions of people insured. Connecticut Democratic Senator Chris Murphy said his party will call the GOP's bluff if they propose a plan that rips away millions of people's health insurance.
“They can’t get from here to there right now, but as long as we keep them committed to there – which is a replacement plan that looks and feels just like the ACA does for the 20 million people who have it – that’s a good place for us to be.”
Barrasso maintains his party can keep millions of people insured even without the current mandate for everyone in the nation to be insured.
“The individual mandate – that you have to buy a government approved product – I believe is illegal. The Supreme Court ruled differently – called it a tax – but the people of Wyoming know that this is the most unpopular part of the healthcare law. People of Wyoming are not going to tolerate it, and I am not going to tolerate it and to me it’s a part of the initial repeal bill. It’s one of the reasons we have to repeal the health care law.”
But Barrasso says his party is prepared to make slow, methodical changes to the nation's health care system so that voters don't feel an abrupt change.
“Our goal is to have a smooth and orderly transition. People’s lives have been disrupted so much.”
With the Republican Party in disagreement on how exactly to change the healthcare system after it was extended to millions of Americans for the first time, critics fear the transition will be chaotic and messy - which is what Democrats are banking on as they ramp up their efforts to win back voters in the 20-18 midterm election.