Blumenthal attacks new Senate health plan at Mitchell College meeting

New London — A day after Senate leadership unveiled changes to the Republican bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal continued his push to galvanize local opposition to the legislation.

Blumenthal, D-Conn., spoke out against the new bill, echoing a tweet in which he called it "eyeliner on a pig," and heard near-universal condemnation of the legislation in a hearing at Mitchell College.

Changes are mere "nips and tucks" that are "if anything, making Trumpcare even worse," Blumenthal said.

The hearing is the fifth in a series that Blumenthal has held across the state asking for public input on the bill, in light of the relatively few public hearings that have been permitted as part of the latest legislative health care reform effort.

About 50 people filled the room and spoke for 90 minutes, asking questions about the bill and what the Democratic leadership in the Senate would do to stop it from passing.

Wendy Foster, an Ivoryton resident who stepped up to the podium with a service dog, said that the health care reform effort has caused her stress and anxiety. She suffers from chronic pain and a number of other medical conditions, including the effects of a stroke, and is worried that she will have to pay higher premiums as a result.

"An Affordable Care Act repeal does not protect me," Foster said. "I thought the national debate would be developing affordable, high-quality (insurance) available to everyone."

Stephen Smith, a New London physician, said the bill was a "sale on dirty underwear." He sees many patients with minimal insurance that causes them to make difficult choices about their care.

"It might lower the price but the product really stinks ... catastrophic care is a catastrophe," he said.

The new bill keeps in place a Republican-proposed provision limiting federal funding of Medicaid, rolling back an expansion under the Affordable Care Act, and would result in over $700 billion in cuts to the program.

Connecticut would lose out on nearly $3 billion a year under the measure by 2026, according to Gov. Dannel Malloy's budget office, a sum that "Connecticut can ill afford," Blumenthal added.

To offset these cuts, the bill offers $45 billion in state aid to combat opioid addiction, and restores an ACA tax on investments and payroll.

In a long-sought amendment by Senate conservatives, such as Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, insurers could offer health insurance plans with fewer benefits if they also were to offer plans compliant with the ACA.

That provision, Blumenthal said, would create "junk health insurance."

"There's no guarantee of essential health benefits (and) potential for abuse of pre-existing conditions," he added.

The $45 billion earmarked for opioid treatment was a "pittance" and "not sufficient" in light of the problem in the country, he added.

One measure of the bill that has not gotten much attention, he said, was its treatment of Lyme disease as a pre-existing condition.

While the Connecticut state legislature passed a law requiring it to be covered, under some plans in some states, the disease "wouldn't be covered," he said.

Blumenthal said he expects a new analysis of the proposed bill by the Congressional Budget Office by Monday and a vote on a motion to proceed and bring the overall measure to the full Senate this coming week.

n.lynch@theday.com

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