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TN health organizations speak out about Senate Tax Bill’s impact on Tennessean’s health

Jacob Smith • Nov 17, 2017 at 3:20 PM

State representatives from several national organizations, including the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and the National Organization for Rare Disorders, explained how the tax reform bill could impact Tennessee’s communities and why they are calling on U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker to vote against it.

The members, who spoke on a conference call Friday, expressed significant concern with the partial Affordable Care Act repeal, which eliminates the tax imposed by the act’s mandate that all Americans have health insurance.

“This will affect people with pre-existing conditions that cannot get insurance anywhere else,” said Lynn Williams with the ACS-CAN. “The impact will fall particularly on people with serious illness.”

Dr. Terry Jo Bichell, Tennessee ambassador of the National Organization for Rare Disorders and mother of a son and daughter of a dad with rare disorders, was particularly concerned with what the bill will mean for her son and others with rare diseases.

“Rare diseases hit randomly; rare diseases are bipartisan,” said Bichell. “It can happen to anyone at any stage of life. I’m healthy, but my son and father are not. My daughters know that we’re all in this together and that their participation helps other members of the family. But many young healthy people don’t know that, nor do they understand that bad things happen to healthy people too, and they themselves may need health insurance, too.”

Williams acknowledged the current health care system wasn’t perfect, but stressed Congress’ proposed plan was not the way to fix it.

“We know that it needs to be updated and improved,” said Williams. “We urge the Senate to take steps to stabilize the individual market, which will help lower coverage costs for patients and families and ensure that the health care system provides comprehensive coverage for the one-in-two men and the one-in-three women who are diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lifetime.”

House Republicans approved their sweeping tax-cut package Thursday, setting up a showdown with the Senate, where Republicans are struggling to win support for their own significantly different approach.

Senate GOP leaders, after making some revisions this week, are facing mounting dissent and criticism that their tax plan favors corporations and the wealthy. An analysis by Congress’ bipartisan tax experts Thursday concluded the Senate plan would raise taxes for some of the poorest Americans by 2021.

House Republicans had an easier time, passing their measure by a vote of 227-205, though 13 Republicans voted no.

Democrats were unified against the plan, and the Republican defections came from lawmakers in the Northeast and California, who were mostly concerned about the proposed elimination of deductions for state and local income taxes and the capping of property tax deductions at $10,000. The write-offs are widely used in their high-tax districts.

Ahead of the House vote, President Donald Trump traveled to Capitol Hill to bolster Republicans worried that if they didn’t pass tax reform, they would risk voter revolt in next year’s midterm election for failing to keep a major campaign promise, particularly after their failed Obamacare repeal.

But approval sets Republicans in the House and Senate on a collision course as they rush to finish the package by Christmas.

The Senate plan has key differences and is facing greater hurdles for passage, particularly as senators try to find ways to enhance benefits for middle-income Americans.

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., became the first to GOP senator to oppose the proposal, saying it did not do enough to help small businesses. Centrist Susan Collins, R-Maine, has also raised concerns, as have other senators.

Under special budget rules, Republicans can only afford to lose two votes in the Senate, assuming all Democrats vote against their plan.

Concerns were only heightened by a report Thursday from the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation that estimated many low-income earners would end up with tax increases, not tax breaks, in the latest Senate plan.

Those making between $10,000 and $30,000 a year would pay more in taxes starting in 2021, the committee found. By 2023, people with incomes less than $10,000 also would see tax increases.

All other income categories – including those earning more than $1 million – would see tax decreases, according to the reports.

But in 2027, taxes would go up for every income group under $75,000 because the Senate Republican bill calls for tax cuts and other changes to the individual code to expire at the end of 2025.

The large cut in the corporate tax rate, to 20 percent from 35 percent, would be permanent under the Republican bill.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, noted that the projections for low-income people were based on a provision of the Senate bill that does away with the Obamacare mandate that all Americans have health insurance.

If low-income earners opt to drop their health care coverage as a result, they would also no longer receive the Affordable Care Act’s federal subsidies for their premiums. Without these subsidies, which act like tax credits, their taxes would effectively go up.

But Hatch said it was unfair to call that a tax increase. “Anyone who says we’re hiking taxes on low-income families is misstating facts,” he said.

The findings put the bill’s prospects in the Senate further in flux. Even so, the Senate Finance Committee was expected to advance the measure either late Thursday or early Friday. A full Senate vote is not expected until after Thanksgiving.

Democrats criticized the package, saying it guts essential tax breaks to give corporations and the wealthy tax cuts.

The House bill ends student loan interest deductions and medical expense deductions, and caps the mortgage interest deductions to loans of $500,000 repealing the write-off for second homes.

In a last-ditch gamble to raise revenue, Senate Republicans attached the partial Obamacare repeal, eliminating the tax imposed by the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that all Americans have insurance.

That change, which would go into effect in 2019, is expected to leave 13 million more Americans uninsured and drive up premium costs by 10 percent. But it brings in $318 billion over the decade by cutting federal healthcare subsidies to middle-and low-income Americans who chose not to buy insurance.

Even though Trump broke with House Republicans this year, calling their version of the Obamacare overhaul “mean” shortly after he pushed them to pass it, lawmakers did not raise those concerns in Thursday’s meeting.

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., chairman of the House Freedom Causcus and a go-between congressional Republicans and the White House, said he was confident the Trump had their back this time.

“He gave me his word,” Meadows said. 

Lisa Mascaro and Jim Puzzanghera with the Tribune Washington Bureau contributed to this report

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