Even with repeal bill dead, Murkowski still not a firm ‘yes’ or ‘no’

Sen. Lisa Murkowski speaks with reporters at a press availability following her annual address to the Alaska Legislature on Feb. 22, 2017. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski speaks with reporters at a press availability following her annual address to the Alaska Legislature on Feb. 22, 2017. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

The latest Senate effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act is dead.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday canceled a planned vote after too many Republicans declared they would not support the Graham-Cassidy bill.

But, as of Tuesday evening, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski still was not clearly saying how she would have voted on Graham-Cassidy.

“Everybody wants to know, ‘What would you have done?’” Murkowski told reporters. “You know what?  The real question is, ‘What do we do?’ What do we do now?”

This week was the deadline to pass the health care bill as part of a budget reconciliation bill, which would have required just 50 Senate votes.

Under Senate rules, the usual threshold for important bills is 60.

Murkowski has been seen as pivotal to the fate of Graham-Cassidy, because she helped block a repeal bill this summer.

Now that the calendar pressure is off, Murkowski said the Senate should hold bipartisan hearings and construct a health care bill that can be thoroughly studied.

She said she likes the central idea of Graham-Cassidy, that states should have more flexibility and control over their health care dollars.

“Can I get behind an idea like that? Yeah. But is the devil in the detail? Yes,” Murkowski said. “And so were we there yet? No.”

Apart from money, Murkowski said she wasn’t convinced the bill had adequate protection for people with pre-existing conditions or a strong ban on the return of lifetime limits for insurance claims.

The bill sponsors tried to sweeten the bill for Alaska, with measure after measure that would have sent money to the state.

Murkowski said Senators Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Bill Cassidy, R-La., dug into the Alaska particulars and learned how expensive it is to deliver health care in the state. Murkowski said their concern seemed genuine, beyond just courting her vote.

She said they may become powerful allies in the effort to lower Alaska’s health care costs.

“If you can get people intrigued with your state and then willing to help, that makes all the difference in the world,” Murkowski said.

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan didn’t declare a position on Graham-Cassidy, either. He issued a statement saying he was convinced the bill would have brought more funds to Alaska.

His office said one provision in the last draft, an increase to Alaska’s Medicaid matching rate, could have brought the state as much as $4 billion over 10 years.

Sullivan called the bill “compelling” but said senators ran out of time to study the effects.

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