In region where AHCA would hit hardest, Sen. Bennet blasts Republicans for secrecy

Gov. John Hickenlooper and Sen. Michael Bennet shake hands before handing off the mic in answering questions Friday at a news briefing about healthcare legislation. Photo by Kara Mason

PUEBLO – For places such as Pueblo, where nearly 40 percent of the population gets healthcare coverage from Medicaid, the hurdle in preparing for what comes next in health insurance legislation is perhaps that nobody knows what comes next.

Friday morning during a news briefing following a healthcare roundtable with local and state  leaders, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet blasted Senate Republicans for working in secrecy on the Affordable Health Care Act, the GOP response to Obama’s Affordable Care Act. AHCA has already passed the House and is awaiting a Senate vote.

“Now we know in the Senate that they are so ashamed of the bill they’re working on that they won’t even share it with other Republican colleagues in the Senate, much less Democrats or the American people,” Bennet said. “(These are) Senators that complained the Affordable Care Act was rushed through after countless hearings and countless meetings and 25 days of open debate on the floor that led to the adoption of not only Democratic amendments, but hundreds of Republican amendments.

“(Those Republicans) are now behind closed doors, ashamed to show the American people what they’re working on.”

The senator joined Gov. John Hickenlooper and regional healthcare industry leaders at the Pueblo Community Health Center. US Sen. Cory Gardner was invited to the roundtable, the governor confirmed, but had prior commitments.

Bennet said his best hope for the legislation is that the bill can’t pass with Republicans alone and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will have to engage Democrats. Ideally, that would result in a bipartisan approach to the bill — which Bennet said should have happened all along.

One reporter at the news briefing asked if Bennet or Democrats could do anything more.

“Well, you could break into the room,” Bennet said jokingly. “Rand Paul famously went over to the House side when they were writing their bill in secret. He took a pocket copier with him. He’s a Republican.”

Bennet added that more and more of his Republican colleagues are “less and less” comfortable with the path of the bill.

“We will use the procedural hurdles that are available to us to make sure that they can’t ultimately do this in secret all the way through,” Bennet said.

Bennet said Republicans are hoping to have a vote within two weeks, when the Senate is set to break for the summer.

In the meantime, Colorado lawmakers have little idea on how to prepare for whatever may be coming down to states because of the secrecy.

Pueblo Rep. Daneya Esgar, Vice Chair of the House Health, Insurance and Environment Committee, told PULP there’s a lot of uncertainty for what happens next in Pueblo, Southern Colorado and the state.

Esgar said she hasn’t heard of a worst case scenario. But the amount of people who would be left without any coverage at all is troubling.

With more uninsured, as the Congressional Budget Office points out would be the case in passing the AHCA, Pueblo Community Health Center CEO Donald Moore said local emergency rooms would likely have to expand to meet the demands of uninsured people who would no longer have access to preventative care and family doctors.

“That’s pretty much crisis mode,” Esgar said, adding that having Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne helping navigate Colorado’s options has been invaluable.

Lynne served as the executive vice president of Kaiser Foundation Health Plan Inc. and Kaiser Foundation Hospitals prior to being appointed to her seat.

During the briefing, Hickenlooper stressed how important Medicaid coverage has been for rural Colorado — the place, Hickenlooper said, would see the greatest impact from the passage of AHCA.

185,000 rural Coloradans utilize healthcare because of Medicaid coverage, Hickenlooper said, addressing reporters. 57,000 of those have Medicaid coverage because of expansion.

“It’s robbing the poor to pay the rich,” said Hickenlooper, who, along with a bipartisan group of governors, sent a letter Friday urging McConnell to take a bipartisan approach to the healthcare legislation.

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