Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley decries Senate health-care bill as ‘diabolical,’ points out its ‘pregnancy tax’

For weeks, a small group of Republicans in the U.S. Senate have been secretly crafting health-insurance legislation in response to the House of Representatives bill that President Donald Trump recently called “mean.”

Now the Senate GOP’s effort is out in the open: the bill wouldn’t repeal the Democrats’ controversial 2010 Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare) but it would eliminate most of its taxes while arguably softening the House bill’s Medicaid cuts and rollback of safeguards for people with preexisting conditions.

While the bill’s compromises might or might not end up being enough to woo the half-dozen or so wary GOP senators (Republican senators Mike Lee, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Ron Johnson have already stated they won’t support it in its current form), Democrats remain united in their distaste for the effort.

Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, one of the Democrats’ foremost opponents of President Trump and the congressional Republicans’ agenda, made plain Thursday that he considers the Senate bill worse than “mean.” It’s “diabolical.” Below is his statement in full:

“President Trump infamously called the House health care bill ‘mean.’ Well, if that bill was mean, this one is downright diabolical.

“It is diabolical because it absolutely eviscerates Medicaid, ripping away health care from millions of Americans with cuts that are even deeper than the House version.

“In what kind of society do we steal care from struggling and working-class Americans to pay for billions of dollars of tax giveaways for the richest of the rich?

“It is diabolical because it deeply cuts the Medicaid coverage that 60% of nursing home residents rely on to pay their bills. Without that coverage, many would be out on the streets.

“It is diabolical because this bill encourages states to gut essential coverage. It rewards states for taking away guaranteed coverage for emergency care, hospital stays, addiction treatment and more — encouraging insurance companies to create health policies that aren’t worth the paper they are printed on.

“It is diabolical because it will impose a pregnancy tax on millions of American women, forcing them to pay thousands of dollars for maternity care out of pocket, and threaten the lives of patients with preexisting conditions.

“Last month, I spoke with an Oregonian named Carol. Carol’s husband is in a nursing home, and Carol suffers from multiple preexisting conditions, including congestive heart failure. Both Carol and her husband are covered by Medicaid. Without the Medicaid coverage guaranteed under current law, Carol told me, ‘Surely I will die.’

“Lives are at stake here. This is not a political game. If this bill passes, it will go down as one of the blackest marks on our national history.”

The GOP needs 50 of its 52 senators to support the bill to gain passage, assuming no Democrats vote for it. The four Republicans who currently oppose the new legislation are conservatives who, generally speaking, favor a more comprehensive repeal of Obamacare’s mandates and structure. Next week the Congressional Budget Office is expected to release its conclusions on the Senate bill’s costs and impact on coverage access.