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GOP Wisconsin senator becomes key player in health care repeal process

Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson was one of five senators to push for a further repeal of the Affordable Care Act. 

Image By: Drew Gilmore

Repealing and replacing the federal healthcare program Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, is the marquee political issue this summer. One of Wisconsin’s U.S. senators, Ron Johnson, became a key player in the repeal process, which has stalled for now in the Senate.

Republicans in Washington have been planning to revoke former President Barack Obama’s comprehensive healthcare reform since it passed in 2010. Although the GOP controls both the House of Representatives and the Senate with a Republican president, they couldn’t get past roadblocks to produce legislation that appeals to both moderate and far right members of Congress.

Some lawmakers said the proposed repeal went too far. Others say it didn't go far enough. When the repeal plan that was pushed out of the House reached the Senate, Johnson was one of five senators who argued the proposal should go further in repealing the ACA.

He also disagreed with speeding up the legislative process to get to a vote before the July 4 recess.

“There’s no way we should be voting on this next week. No way,” Johnson told NBC’s Meet the Press. “I have a hard time believing Wisconsin constituents or even myself will have enough time to properly evaluate this.”

Consequently, a Senate vote was not held until after the holiday.

Although many versions of a bill to replace the Obamacare program were proposed, none could gain enough support. The most recent version of the bill, dubbed the “skinny repeal” because it would only repeal a few parts of Obamacare, failed when U.S. Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Susan Collins, R-Maine voted against it.

Johnson, however, voted yes on the “skinny repeal” amendment that would cause 16 million fewer people to have health insurance by 2026 and increase premiums by 20 percent for those wanting to buy private insurance under the auspices that it could eventually pave the way for further reform.

On the other hand, Wisconsin’s Democrat senator, Tammy Baldwin, voted against it, as did every member of her party in the Senate.

“The People of Wisconsin did not send me to Washington to take people’s health care away,” Baldwin said in a statement. “We should be working together to make things better, not worse.”

Republicans want to roll back Obamacare in part because of the high prices they say constituents have struggled to pay as part of their health care premiums. Insurance providers can’t afford to pay the health costs of sick people without healthy people underwriting the cost by paying their premiums.

Rolling back provisions of the program would result in cuts to Medicaid, hurting poorer Americans. Low-income people rely on Medicaid for health insurance funded by the federal and state government. If Medicaid is deeply cut, many will lose their health insurance—a contentious point for why Obamacare reforms are failing.

Obamacare also allows young people to stay on their parent’s health insurance until they’re 26—something not included in replacement plans.

Not enough younger, healthy people have signed up for Obamacare, however, causing strained insurance providers to try to alleviate the issue by increasing customer’s premium costs or dropping out of the Obamacare marketplace altogether.

GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Republicans will begin to work with Democrats to craft a bipartisan way to fix Obamacare’s flaws. Johnson said in a statement that he will hold hearings in the Homeland Security Committee he chairs in an effort to address healthcare issues. 

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