Senate Republicans Pressure CBO for Better Score on ObamaCare Repeal

Senate Republicans are working the referee as they try to salvage their shot at repealing and replacing ObamaCare, specifically turning up the heat on the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), hoping to get a more favorable analysis on the next version of their healthcare bill, The Hill reports.

The CBO’s initial score of the GOP’s healthcare bill found that 22 million more people would be left without health insurance over the next decade compared to under present law.

Republican senators wanted a better number than the House bill, which the CBO found would leave 23 million more people without insurance. What they got was a similar number, which underscored fears from Senator Susan Collins and others that the legislation would leave many vulnerable people without affordable health insurance.

Now Republicans revamping their bill are pressuring the CBO to use a different benchmark for its next score. They say the CBO used data from March 2016 in coming up with the analysis that 22 million people would lose health insurance, The Hill adds.

By using a more recent benchmark from this year, Senator Ron Johnson argues that number might come down by as much as 6 million. He says that the individual insurance market is “in way worse shape today” than it was in March 2016 because many people have since dropped insurance because of rising premiums and insurance companies pulling out of markets.

“It’s completely unfair. It’s completely penalizing the evaluation of what the Senate bill really does compared to current reality”, Johnson said.

CBO acknowledges that it is using the March 2016 data, but it says it is following standard procedure in doing so.

Republicans are moving their healthcare bill through the Senate under special budget reconciliation rules that prevent Democrats from filibustering the legislation. As part of that process, they passed a budget for fiscal year 2017 in January, which was based on CBO’s March 2016 baseline.

CBO traditionally uses the same baseline for bills passed under reconciliation as is used for the budget, and this is why it used the March 2016 data as a baseline for its score on the Senate’s healthcare bill.

Senate aides agreed that the CBO used the older data based on instruction by House GOP leaders, who did not expect the process of passing the healthcare bill to drag on for so long. At a GOP retreat in Philadelphia in January, Speaker Paul Ryan outlined a 200-day agenda that anticipated repealing and replacing ObamaCare in April.

But as the Senate continues to struggle to pass its own healthcare bill, and as centrists worry over the CBO’s findings, that is looking like a costly error. Republican senators pressed CBO Director Keith Hall over the issue when he spoke to the GOP conference on Tuesday, the day after it issued its report.

Hall, the CBO director, pushed back against GOP senators in the meeting, arguing that it could take weeks to build new models based on more recent data, setting up a contest of wills between Senate Republicans and Congress’s official scorekeeper.

Republicans need to win 50 votes from their own conference to clear their legislation through the Senate, but face defections from the left and the right. Collins and Senators Lisa Murkowski, Dean Heller, Rob Portman and Shelley Moore Capito are among the Republicans worried their bill would leave too many people with unaffordable paths to insurance. The GOP can only afford to lose two votes, and also faces pressure from conservatives, who have other demands about the healthcare bill.

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