Health Bill’s CBO Score Raises Alarms for Wary Senators

A Congressional Budget Office analysis of a Republican health care bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act is fueling additional Senate skepticism of the measure.

The bill already cleared its first hurdle in the House, advancing through the Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce committees last week, but many senators — who have been wary of the legislation since it was released last week — are already warning that it may be better to press pause.

The CBO estimated 24 million fewer people would have health insurance over the next decade under the so-called American Health Care Act, but it would also cut $337 billion from the federal deficit, a key priority for many GOP conservatives.

Republicans had sought to downplay that “score” ahead of its release, noting the CBO’s analysis of the ACA didn’t pan out as projected. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price in a statement said the numbers in the report “defy logic.”

But not all Republicans were on board with ignoring the analysis outright.

“Let’s say the CBO is half right, that should be cause for concern,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters.

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) also called the report concerning and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee that played a role in crafting the Republican health plan, said he was concerned about Tennesseans who would lose coverage next year if Congress doesn’t act.

“Let’s take it step by step,” he told reporters. “It has several steps more to go through in the House, and the Senate’s going to have plenty of opportunity to amend it.”

The report also raised alarm in the House: Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.), a moderate Republican, announced on Facebook he wouldn’t support the measure, writing that “this bill is not the right answer” to health reforms.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the chamber’s No. 2 Republican, defended the legislation, pointing to what GOP leaders have called phases two and three of their health reform plans that could address some of the issues. These are the regulatory actions that HHS could take to stabilize and strengthen the non-group insurance market and the additional legislation that Republicans could try to pass with Democratic help in the Senate.

The CBO does not score regulatory steps, and GOP leaders have been vague about what type of legislation would come after the reconciliation bill, though they have suggested additional bills would aim to drive down health costs.

But other Republicans stressed any future steps are uncertain. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt on Tuesday that regulatory actions by HHS’s Price would be subject to court cases and additional legislation was unlikely to garner enough Democratic support.

“That’s why it’s so important that we get this legislation right, because there is no step three,” Cotton said. “And step two is not completely under our control.”

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