Senate Republicans stumbled all over themselves trying to ram through a so-called healthcare bill. What they produced instead was an embarrassing mess that would systematically dismantle Medicaid and give huge tax breaks to the super-wealthy.

They got there through pathetic political strategy. Fortunately it’s backfired. The ineptitude of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has led to speculation that maybe he never wanted to repeal and replace Obamacare in the first place.

Recent polls have shown only 12 to 17 percent of Americans support the Senate plan. Last week an unscientific online survey by the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle tallied 88 percent opposition to the plan backed by Wyoming U.S. Sens. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso.

Both were members of the all-white, all-male committee that drafted their party’s bill in secret, giving Enzi and Barrasso undeniable ownership of this fiasco. Even in ultra-red Wyoming, voters won’t tolerate abysmal performance and misrepresentation from their Senators.

Republican senators tried to foist the bill’s supposed “benefits” on an often gullible public, but a majority of Americans now realize that “hey, Obamacare isn’t bad after all” compared to the stinkbomb Republicans have thrown together to replace it.

Hailing the release of their draft bill, Enzi bragged about the “months of hard work” Senate Republicans spent on it. Months? GOP lawmakers had seven years to craft an alternative to the Affordable Care Act. They never showed us a plan during all that time. Instead they clung to “no” as their sole vision for an issue that accounts for one-sixth of the country’s economy. They didn’t even bother to scratch something out on a napkin.

Then, when it comes time to produce, they spent a few weeks scrambling behind closed doors. No wonder they ended up throwing a Hail Mary pass that wobbled and landed with an unholy thud. Or was it a Hail Mitch pass? Since McConnell preferred operating the D.C. branch of the He-Man Women-Haters Club to allowing female senators in his own party to contribute, I doubt Mary would want her name used.

Even with a 52 member majority in the Senate and a willingness to subvert tradition by circumventing filibusters, McConnell still couldn’t muster the simple majority needed to pass this dog. Conservative and moderate factions agree they want to win re-election, but they’re miles apart on how to accomplish their mission.

About the only thing Republicans can agree on is that they promised to get rid of Obamacare. When McConnell’s June 30 vote deadline expired Friday, President Trump urged the Senate to repeal the ACA now and replace it later. Six months ago he warned it would be a huge mistake to repeal the current system and let healthcare deteriorate without a plan to protect millions who would be affected by the move.

Barrasso claims the bill “safeguards Medicaid for the most vulnerable and needy.” That’s a huge whopper from the former orthopedic surgeon who swapped his practice for the political career that has carried him to the Senate’s number four leadership position. Meanwhile, Enzi says “states will have more flexibility to see that the aged, the poor, the sick are actually taken care of.”

Flexibility? Here’s the truth: Republicans have proposed cutting Medicaid by nearly $800 billion, with much of the savings going to the wealthy. The Tax Policy Center estimates the top 0.1 percent of taxpayers — those who make $5 million or more per year — would receive an average annual tax break of $250,000. The top 1 percent, earning $875,000 or more, would save $45,500 annually.

Middle-class earners making between $55,000 and $93,000 per year would get a $280 tax break. The bottom 20 percent of taxpayers would save an average of $180.

What do low-to-middle class taxpayers get for their gift to the wealthy? Most will receive significantly worse health insurance. Up to 35 percent of those now on Medicaid will lose coverage entirely.

The feds can’t simply hand-off Medicaid costs to the states. Many states, including Wyoming, are already facing critical budget deficits and planning cuts to education and services for the poor, elderly and disabled — the very people Barrasso and Enzi say they want to protect.

To keep Medicaid services at current levels Wyoming would have to raise taxes. What are the chances our GOP-led state house would agree to do that? Under Trumpcare, they could, and history suggests would, simply walk away from a host of fiscal and social obligations by throwing people off Medicaid.

One of the most egregious lies Republicans have told Americans is that their bill will continue to protect people with preexisting conditions. Consumers are in for a shock when they discover that companies will be able to drop such protection if their state receives a waiver from the obligation to cover portions of what Obamacare deems 10 essential health benefits. With such a waiver insurers will also be able to market policies that fail to cover doctors’ services, inpatient and outpatient hospital care, prescription drugs, pregnancy and childbirth, and mental health services. You’d better believe that the GOP spin doctors can’t wait to celebrate desperate citizens with such worthless shell policies as “taken care of.”

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Given the continued downturn in the state’s economy, it’s virtually guaranteed Wyoming will be one of the first states in the waiver application line.

Throughout the country people who can still afford to buy health insurance under Trumpcare would pay cheaper premiums. But millions more — especially older and sicker Americans — would be priced out of the market  and left without health insurance. That’s unthinkable. Our country is better than that.

Even with Obamacare, which has added 20 million to the health insurance rolls, more than 11 percent of adult Americans are still uninsured. Either of the Republicans’ House or Senate proposals would send that figure hurtling in the wrong direction.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated the Senate version would cause 22 million people to lose their health insurance by 2026, two million fewer than the House’s bill. Many of them are Medicaid recipients. About half of all babies born in the U.S. and two-thirds of nursing home residents rely on Medicaid. That’s one out of every five Americans.

Barrasso promised that the bill will have “broad input from healthcare providers, patients and every member of the U.S. Senate.” Wyoming hospitals, physicians and nursing homes have blasted the bill. There have been no public hearings at which they can testify.

Vickie Diamond, CEO of the Wyoming Medical Center in Casper, told the Casper Star-Tribune that some of the state’s rural hospitals would likely be forced to close.

WMC spokeswoman Kristy Bleizeffer noted that Wyoming has an aging population, and that increased premiums for residents who aren’t yet eligible for Medicare would be “devastating.” Nursing homes would have to turn away some seniors in need. Where are they supposed to go?

But it’s all well and good when you can vilify a bogey man alternative. True to form, Enzi and Barrasso have been quick to parrot the party line of Obamacare’s “death spiral” — all while standing on Obamacare’s neck.

Following seven years of obstruction and sabotage, McConnell now whines that Democrats won’t work with Republicans. As long as the repeal of Obamacare is on the table, he’s right.

After the embarrassing way the GOP squandered its opportunity to improve the current law, the public needs to tell them to act like adults, lose the huge tax giveaways to the wealthy and work with Democrats to actually improve the healthcare system we have now.

If you see Senators Enzi and Barrasso or Representative Cheney during our delegation’s holiday break, let them know they have to stop playing these reckless games with our nation’s healthcare.

Kerry Drake

Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake has covered Wyoming for more than four decades, previously as a reporter and editor for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and Casper Star-Tribune. He lives in Cheyenne and...

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  1. It’s time to vote for your own interests/needs, not the party line. If the Affordable Care Act(its not Obamacare; don’t help racists out here) benefits your, your family and friends, look at who you are voting for.

  2. Good journalism. Our Senators are not representing our state and its people well. I am not surprised about Barasso- he sold his soul long ago for power. I am, however, deeply disappointed with Senator Enzi. I have often disagreed with him but I always respected his integrity in the past. Guess that went out the window when he didn’t stand up and defend our country against the excesses of the Trump administration. Keep up your high journalistic standards, Wyofile! We need you.

  3. Great read and I don’t even live in Wyoming but we’re hearing the same here in Southern Missouri with Senator Blunt, who says one thing to the people he ask to vote for him and another when he’s back in DC, with his other Repulicans who are listening more to the Insurance Lobby then the voters of his state. Like Wyoming I would the Doctors groups and Hospital here in Missouri are telling Matt Blunt what will happen to the poor,and Seniors who already have had their MORX pulled out from beneath them with only a 15 day notice (MoRx was a program to help cover copay from Medicare Part D that was mainly paid for from Pharmaceutical rebates from Missouri Health net aalso known as DFS and money from the tobacco settlement) the total cost was about ten million a year. Pretty cheap for 60,000 seniors I myself who used it will see my copays go from $250.00 to $500.00 a month, and like most seniors our Social Security COLA raises doesn’t even cover the 1 or 2 % in grocery increases or the 30% increases in utility increases we seen the last ten years.
    So just like my friends in Wyoming I feel for them alot and hope all these nice people we sent to DC listen to us when they come back from their 4th break or come 2018 I know a lot won’t be returning to DC and will gave to return to their homes in Missouri and Wyoming

  4. Dear Mr. Zack Hall,
    I cannot add a single word to your brilliant comment on the Republican health debacle in Washington, DC.
    Thank you Zack, and shame on you, Senators Enzi and Barasso (who never saw a TV camera he didn’t love!)

    Bob Cherry
    Cody, Wyoming

  5. This piece is just seething with righteous fury. THANK YOU! Barrasso and Enzi are world-class liars, heartless cretins, on the take and newly dangerous. Barrasso used to spend so much time trying to get his mug included in “leadership” photos that he had little time to do any harm legislatively. And Enzi used to be a harmless, ineffectual nebbish. I hope this health-care debacle effectively ends their careers.

  6. Well said. Is there any way to make our senators listen? They always thank me for my comments and then tell me how bad the ACA is for Wyoming. It’s like they have never lived here. I heard John Barrasso say that replacing the ACA was necessary for us to have freedom. He didn’t specify that he was talking about the freedom to get sick and die without medical care. I hear people talking about tyranny, that paying taxes or having to buy insurance is the same as theft. The very definition of group insurance is that everyone pays in so that those who get sick have it when it’s needed. It protects older people, it protects those just starting families, it protects those who are injured in accidents. Somehow some people have become convinced that the only people helped by the ACA are deadbeats, never considering those with pre-existing conditions, those with low paying jobs, those who run a self employed business, those whose employers no longer provide insurance or who fire anyone who gets sick or injured to avoid the costs. Most people I know are very ready to step up for a community fund raiser when someone gets sick or injured or has a fire at their house. A fund raiser is a kindness but it can’t begin to cover the costs of a major illness, so why would we oppose a system that makes sure that help is there even if it doesn’t involve a band and a bar-b-que? Most of us are not mean, selfish people. Even if some are without insurance because of bad decisions, we’ve all made one or two of those at some time, haven’t we?

  7. Our Senators Dr.B and Mike should be ashamed of themselves. What happened to Barroso and the Hippocratic oath he supposedly took? How sad. Bob

  8. SEE Enzi, Barrasso or Cheney during break? Like, here in Wyoming?

    That’s a good one Drake, I’m laughing so hard my sides hurt.

    The only way to interact with our Members of Congress is to fork over cash or attend a $1000 a plate event to increase their war chests, and get five seconds to express your opinion.

    Those three have run like scalded cats from their constituents… I’ll be expressing my opinion of that behavior at the ballot box.

  9. I was moved by this column to send the following letter to Senator Enzi:

    Senator Mike Enzi
    379A Russell Senate Office Building
    Washington, DC 20510

    Dear Senator Enzi,
    About six years ago, when I was a member of the Board of Trustees of St. John’s Medical Center in Jackson, Wyoming, I attended an event for hospital volunteers at which you were the featured speaker. In your talk, you deplored the air of partisanship in Washington and spoke of your work with the late Senator Ted Kennedy on behalf of healthcare in the United States. You spoke very eloquently about your personal principle of “looking for the 80%”, i.e. the common ground on which bi-partisan agreement can be found. You spoke disparagingly about those “20 per centers” who resist any attempt at compromise and insisted on getting 100% of what they want or not at all.
    I came away from that meeting with hope in my heart about the unhappy situation in Washington, proud that Wyoming had a senator who could engage in constructive bi-partisan action. Later that summer, I happened to be in Atlanta and met a young man who had been on Senator Kennedy’s staff. As soon as I said I was from Wyoming, he said, “You have a great Senator in Wyoming. Senators Enzi and Kennedy worked together to achieve great things in healthcare”. I was pleased to tell him that I had heard you say the same thing.
    What has happened to you? I read to my deep dismay that you are now part of that small group of 13 Republican men, who have met in secret to replace the ACA with a disastrous health-care plan that provides tax benefits for the wealthy at the expense of those in our state who most need help, a plan that will decimate our rural hospitals, and a plan whose approval ratings, both in Wyoming and in the country, hover around 15%!
    I write to register my deep disappointment, both in you and in the Republican party, who seem to have become the “20 per centers” you deplored so persuasively in Jackson only a few years ago.
    Sincerely,

    Zach Hall

  10. Impressive article. Don’t forget to include Sen. Charles Scott, whose influence has played a huge part in advising both Senators Enzi and Barasso on the healthcare repeal bill.
    In the WTE June 20, 2017 issue, article by Joel Funk, Sen. Charles Scott makes mention of multiple conversations with both Enzi and Borasso, by phone and in person, as they work through the bill.
    That is why much of what is being proposed, is all too familiar to some Wyoming citizens.