The U.S. Senate yesterday passed a bill that would gut key provisions of the Affordable Care Act and do away with the medical device tax, but the measure faces certain death as soon as it hits President Barack Obama’s desk.
The upper chamber voted 52-47 to pass the bill, with 2 Republicans crossing the aisle to join Democrats in voting against H.R. 3762, the “Restoring Americans’ Healthcare Freedom Reconciliation Act of 2015.” The measure must still be reconciled with the original version passed by the U.S. House of Representatives before it can be sent to the White House.
Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) joined 44 Democrats and 1 independent in opposing the measure. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, did not vote.
Democrats in the Senate have blocked some 61 previous Republican attempts aimed at rolling back the landmark 2010 legislation designed to provide health care for millions of uninsured Americans. Senate Democrats have enough votes to shoot down a veto override, meaning that the vote was largely symbolic.
But the vote also lays the groundwork for repealing Obamacare should the GOP take the presidential election next year, according to Politico.
“Republicans are carefully constructing a legislative strategy, based on Senate rules and precedents, to make it easier to unravel the health law in 2017 if a Republican wins the White House,” the website reported. “Under the special rules of reconciliation, the Senate’s parliamentarian has to determine whether each provision complies with the Senate’s rules. Those rulings are based in part on precedent. So once the parliamentarian determines that this legislation complies, it makes it hard to argue that a similar repeal bid doesn’t in January 2017 – when a new president might sign it into law.”
The medical device tax, a 2.3% levy on all U.S. sales of prescribed medical devices, went into effect at the start of 2013. But the medtech tax has been a target since it was 1st proposed as part of the ACA back in 2009, and a number of measures in both the House and Senate that would repeal it have been introduced on Capitol Hill over the years.
In June, 46 Democrats joined the vote to approve H.R. 160, the “Protect Medical Innovation Act of 2015; last month, the House passed the Restoring Americans’ Healthcare Freedom Reconciliation Act, which included the Protect Medical Innovation Act’s provision to eliminate the levy.
The Senate’s corresponding repeal bid, sponsored by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), is S. 149 or the “Medical Device Access & Innovation Protection Act.” The Hatch measure has 39 co-sponsors, including Democratic Sens. Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Ben Casey of Pennsylvania, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Minnesota’s Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken.
A pair of Democrat-led bills would also repeal the tax, but unlike the Hatch and Paulsen measures, those bills would replace the lost revenue by closing tax loopholes for the energy industry.
A bill by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), S. 844 or the “No Taxation on Device Innovation Act,” has no co-sponsors. Its counterpart in the House, H.R. 1533 or the “Medical Device Tax Elimination Act” sponsored by Rep. Alma Adams (D-N.C.), has 10 co-sponsors, all Democrats.
Material from Reuters was used in this report.