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Sen. John McCain Says He Wants A Bipartisan Effort To Overhaul Health Care


Senator John McCain says he will not support the latest Republican proposal to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. In a statement today, the Arizona Republican says he wants Congress to overhaul the health care law. But he wants to do it in a bipartisan way. McCain's decision means the proposal known as Graham-Cassidy is teetering on the edge of defeat. Joining us now to talk about where things stand is NPR's health policy correspondent, Alison Kodjak. Hi, Alison.


CHANG: So what more did Senator McCain say today?

KODJAK: Well, what the senator said is he wants Congress to return to what's called regular order, which is when they have a bill go through the normal debate process. There'd be hearings and markups in the committees of jurisdiction. There'd be debate on the Senate floor. And people from both parties would be able to propose changes.

CHANG: Imagine that.

KODJAK: (Laughter) And that's definitely not what's happening here. Republicans were trying to pass this bill with support only from their party, which meant they were using a legislative maneuver to avoid a Democratic filibuster.

CHANG: OK. So McCain isn't opposed to the substance of this particular plan. What he opposes is the way it's been jammed through the Senate, right? Why is that so important to him?

KODJAK: Well, what the senator says and what - a lot of people agree with this - is that unless both parties can pass a joint health care bill, it's going to remain so political that every time the power changes, Congress is going to take it up again and again. It'll just create more instability.

CHANG: Right. NPR has been reporting that this bill was already struggling to get enough Republican votes. Why does McCain's move in particular put the bill, as we say, teetering on the edge of defeat?

KODJAK: So in July, when the Senate was considering previous versions of the health care bill, McCain cast the deciding vote that killed that attempt.

CHANG: Right.

KODJAK: And many people believe that this time, without his support, this one won't pass. There's no Democratic support. And only two Republicans can vote against it and still have it pass. So now we know that Senator McCain is one of them. And there are three other senators who've made it clear they have doubts - Rand Paul, who right here on NPR this week said he's opposed to it mostly because the bill doesn't repeal the taxes that were created by Obamacare.

And then today, Senator Susan Collins in Maine - she said at an event that she's leaning against it. And she is just unhappy with the protections for people with pre-existing conditions. She is worried about cuts in Medicaid funding in the bill. And then, finally, there's Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. And she says she's undecided, too, in part because of the Medicaid cuts. And then to put a little icing on it, a report from her state's health and human services department came out today that said Alaska could lose 65 percent of its health care funding with this law.

CHANG: Wow. OK. So crystal ball time. What happens now?

KODJAK: Well, there's still - senators Graham and Cassidy are still trying to get this bill passed. They're throwing some sweeteners towards Senator Murkowski in Alaska. And Democrats certainly are not acting like this is over. They're all over Twitter, telling people to get out and, you know, demonstrate, let their members of Congress know. There's an - organizing a demonstration in Maine outside one of Senator Collins's offices. But at the same time, Senator Chuck Schumer and Senator Patty Murray both put out statements saying that they're ready to work on a bipartisan proposal if this one dies. So if that one - you know, if that happens, there could be a lot of other things happening next week - you know, moving on to fixing the Affordable Care Act rather than trying to repeal and replace it again.

CHANG: We'll see how that goes. Thank you so much. That's NPR's Alison Kodjak.

KODJAK: Thanks, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alison Fitzgerald Kodjak is a health policy correspondent on NPR's Science Desk.