Trump endorses Republican healthcare plan amid flap involving comedian

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U.S. President Donald Trump addresses the 72nd United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., September 19, 2017. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump on Wednesday endorsed the latest plan by congressional Republicans to gut Obamacare while a sponsor of the bill faced blistering criticism from comedian Jimmy Kimmel who said the senator “lied right to my face” about it.

Trump, on Twitter, called the measure sponsored by Republican Senators Bill Cassidy and Lindsey Graham “great,” adding: “I hope Republican Senators will vote for Graham-Cassidy and fulfill their promise to Repeal & Replace ObamaCare. Money direct to States!”

After previous proposals failed in the Senate in July, Republicans are using the Graham-Cassidy bill to make one last push this year to pass legislation to dismantle the 2010 law, a goal of theirs for seven years. The Affordable Care Act was the top legislative achievement of Trump’s Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, and replacing it was one of Trump’s most repeated campaign promises.

Cassidy, the target of Kimmel’s wrath, defended the bill, which would give healthcare money to states in block grants, let them opt out of certain Obamacare consumer protections and waive requirements that insurers cover certain benefits, and end an expansion of the Medicaid program for the poor and disabled.

The senator has said any healthcare bill must pass what he called “the Jimmy Kimmel test” of providing affordable care for children, after the comedian and late-night TV host became part of the healthcare debate in may when he emotionally revealed that his newborn son had emergency heart surgery.

Cassidy appeared on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” in May and said he backed access to preventative care regardless of income.

“This guy, Bill Cassidy, just lied right to my face,” Kimmel said on his show on Tuesday. “He said he would only support a healthcare bill that made sure a child like mine would get the health coverage he needs no matter how much money his parents make.

“Stop using my name, OK? Because I don’t want my name on it. There’s a new ‘Jimmy Kimmel test’ for you. It’s called the lie detector test. You’re welcome to stop by the studio and take it any time,” he said to cheers from his audience.

On Wednesday morning, Cassidy said his proposal would protect people who are already ill, although it does let states waive an Obamacare mandate that insurers cannot charge people who have pre-existing medical conditions more than those who are healthy.

“I’m sorry he does not understand,” Cassidy, a gastroenterologist who represents Louisiana, said of Kimmel on CNN.

“There is a specific provision that says that if a state applies for a waiver, it must ensure that those with pre-existing conditions have affordable and adequate coverage,” Cassidy said.

In a statement, Cassidy called his bill “must-pass” legislation and pointed out that Republicans faced a Sept. 30 deadline to get it through the Senate.

CLINTON WEIGHS IN

Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate defeated by Trump in last year’s election, weighed in on Wednesday, writing on Twitter, “Nothing is more important than saving the Affordable Care Act from another cruel effort to take health care away from millions of people.”

Republicans say the Affordable Care Act, dubbed Obamacare, is an example of government overreach into the healthcare system. Democrats point out that it has expanded health insurance coverage to some 20 million people.

It remains unclear whether the Cassidy-Graham bill can win over enough wavering Republicans senators to win passage, including John McCain, whose “no” vote helped sink the last bill in July.

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Committee has not yet assessed the effects of the new bill. The CBO had found that prior Republican legislation that failed in July would have deprived an estimated 22 million Americans of health insurance.

Medical advocacy groups and hospitals have lined up against the latest proposal, while a bipartisan group of 10 governors wrote a letter to Senate leaders asking them not to consider the Cassidy-Graham bill.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who fell a single vote short of securing passage of another healthcare overhaul bill in July, said on Tuesday the Graham-Cassidy legislation “has a great deal of support,” but would not commit to bringing it to the Senate floor for consideration.

After Sept. 30, the last day of the fiscal year, procedural rules will make it much more difficult for Republicans. The bill after Oct. 1 would need 60 votes in the 100-seat Senate to be brought up for consideration, rather than a simple majority until the end of the month. Republicans have a 52-48 majority in the Senate.

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