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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Washington leaders react to House vote on health care

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., center, looks for her bus on Capitol in Washington, Thursday, May 4, 2017, following a vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act. (Susan Walsh / AP)

With only four votes to spare, the House of Representatives passed a plan to repeal and replace large parts of Obamacare, with changes that supporters say would return health care decisions to patients and critics say would leave those with serious illnesses with no or unaffordable coverage.

On a 217-213 vote, Republicans sent the American Health Care Act to the Senate, where it is expected to face major revisions.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., said the bill has “common sense reforms,” including the ability to buy health insurance from another state, that will help lower costs and increase access.

McMorris Rodgers, the only member of the state’s House delegation to vote for the bill, described it as keeping a promise. “We’re going to repeal Obamacare and replace it with a health care system that puts them – not the federal government – in control of their health care decisions,” she said in a statement released minutes after the vote.

Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, had opposed an earlier version of the bill, but voted yes Thursday. He said the latest version removes prohibitions against less expensive insurance plans and “the knot of insurance regulations that are making health coverage so unaffordable.”

Gov. Jay Inslee, who with Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler had urged the state’s members of Congress to fight the changes, called the bill “an abomination.” Obamacare has reduced the state’s uninsured rate, cut the increase in premiums and supported 51,000 new jobs, he said.

He urged the Senate to reject legislation he labeled as “the old switcheroo” that would take health care away from many people while providing tax breaks for the wealthy.

Kreidler, a longtime supporter of Obamacare and critic of Republican plans to repeal it, was on the House floor to witness Thursday’s vote, which he called a triumph of “politics over meaningful health care reform.” Like an earlier version that was pulled from the floor without a vote, the latest version could leave 24 million people nationwide, and 700,000 in Washington, without health care coverage, he said.

Although supporters like McMorris Rodgers and Labrador insist the bill protects people with pre-existing conditions, Kreidler said that’s not necessarily the case. The nation would set aside $130 billion to help offset the cost of insurance to those with pre-existing conditions, while giving states the authority to let insurers put them in special groupings or “pools.” Kreidler said if enough states take advantage of that authority, insurance for people with pre-existing conditions could become unaffordable, and they would wind up with no coverage.

The proposed changes to Medicaid and the reductions in federal subsidies would cost Washington billions to keep the same numbers on that health care program, Inslee said. “We do not have that right now.”

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said the latest version of the House bill was worse than the earlier version and accused Republicans of passing it to give President Donald Trump a “win.”

“Trumpcare is headed straight to a dead end here in the Senate, because women and families are going to fight back harder than ever against this disastrous bill,” Murray said in a press release.