Las Vegas Sun

August 23, 2017

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Sandoval, Heller cite Medicaid concerns in opposing Obamacare repeal bill

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Yvonne Gonzalez / Las Vegas Sun

U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, left, conduct a joint news conference to discuss cuts to Medicaid proposed under a GOP health care law that would replace Obamacare.

The GOP’s new health bill would mean Nevada cannot afford to maintain coverage for the 210,000 residents insured under Medicaid expansion, Gov. Brian Sandoval says.

The governor and Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., spoke against the bill during a Friday news conference in Las Vegas. Heller said he couldn’t support the bill in its current form.

“It’s going to be very difficult to get me to a yes,” Heller said. “They have a lot of work to do.”

Sandoval said if the bill were to become law, Nevada’s costs for its newly eligible Medicaid patients would balloon from $120 million per year. The government’s share of these Medicaid costs would start to decrease in 2021, lowering from 90 percent to the regular federal share of 65 percent.

“You’re looking at a $480 million a year rollout for the state,” Sandoval said.

The state’s uninsured rate has gone down from about 23 percent to roughly 12 percent, with the 18 percent of Nevada’s children without coverage dropping to 8 percent. Sandoval said these are some of the biggest, if not the biggest, improvements in the country.

He said the 210,000 who became eligible with Nevada’s Medicaid expansion are single adults who do not have children and earn about $16,000 per year. Sandoval said these residents now have access to regular health care treatment, mental health treatment, preventive care, and access to resources for addiction treatment.

“These are the folks that are most vulnerable and barely able to make ends meet,” Sandoval said. “That’s why Sen. Heller and I are here together to talk about the fact that these are folks that are worth fighting for.”

Heller said Friday that his mother, after five back surgeries, is on painkillers that she can’t get off of.

“I’ve seen firsthand the results of opioid abuse,” he said. “Those are the kinds of things you can heal with proper medication, and legislation that makes sure that it’s handled.”

He also said women’s health care would also be impacted, with exchanges able to decide what’s essential.

“I’m very very concerned that we’re going to roll back the clock on that,” he said.

Heller said he wants to see a health care bill that doesn’t “pull the rug” out from under hundreds of thousands of Nevada residents.

He said he could be on board with a Medicaid expansion phase-out if legacy Medicaid is brought to a level “that doesn’t hurt the state of Nevada.”

“I want to make sure that we prop up Medicaid to the degree that the federal government has given in the past and that has become an expectation for the state of Nevada,” Heller said.

Heller said he wants to protect Medicaid expansion states, which would be a “heavy lift” when it comes to states that chose to opt out.

With regard to preexisting conditions, Heller said premiums have gone up under the ACA. He said the GOP’s bill doesn’t do a good job addressing that issue, and also lacks research dollars to solve the top 10 pre-existing conditions in the United States.

Both Sandoval and Heller agreed that the Affordable Care Act is not perfect and needs work.

Heller said that the biggest lie over the past decade was that people could choose to keep their doctors. He said the second biggest lie is that if the GOP bill passes, premiums will go down.

“There isn’t anything in this piece of legislation that will lower premiums,” Heller said.

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