Less than two months after the U.S. Senate failed to pass a plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, senators on opposite sides of the ideological spectrum unveiled plans to overhaul the country's health care system.
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican, and U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, a Louisiana Republican and a doctor, introduced a bill Wednesday that would cut Medicaid spending, redirect federal health care dollars to states and eliminate Obamacare's individual mandate, which requires almost everyone to buy an insurance policy or pay a fine.
Their bill would also take federal funding used to expand Medicaid eligibility under Obamacare in 31 states and redistribute that money across the country.
This specific provision could benefit patients in South Carolina, where leaders chose not to expand Medicaid eligibility, effectively turning down billions of federal dollars over several years.
Graham said he believes his proposal would cost about $1.2 trillion through 2026 and would be paid for by leaving "taxes on the wealthy" in place.
"If you believe repealing and replacing Obamacare is a good idea, this is your best and only chance to make it happen because everything else has failed except this approach," said Graham, who was also joined at his announcement press conference by Sens. Dean Heller, R-Nev., Ron Johnson, R-Wis., and former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa.
"Is there any fight left in Washington to repeal and replace Obamacare?" Graham asked. "I can tell you there are a lot of colleagues who are dying to take another shot."
Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who failed to clinch the Democratic nomination in last year's presidential race, released a single-payer "Medicare-for-all" proposal Wednesday afternoon.
"Our job is to lead the world on health care, not to be woefully behind every other major country," Sanders said during his own press conference.
"The function of a good health care system is to enable people to get the health care when they need that health care, not to deal with an endless amount of paperwork and to spend hour after hour arguing with insurance companies about whether or not you have the coverage for the procedures that you need."
Graham spent some time during his earlier press conference railing against Sanders' plan.
"If you want a single payer health care system, this is your worst nightmare,” Graham said, referring to his own bill. "Hell no to Berniecare."
On Wednesday morning, Graham pointed out that Sanders has not indicated how much his plan would cost, calling a single-payer system unsustainable.
"We will become Greece," Graham said.
Sanders acknowledged that taxes may go up to fund a single-payer system but those costs would be offset by the elimination of private insurance expenses.
The Congressional Budget Office has not scored either proposal; both plans face uphill battles.
Republicans on Capitol Hill have been skeptical that Graham's plan will gain any traction. Both Graham and Cassidy have struggled this summer to drum up support for their bill.
Earlier this week, GOP Sen. John Thune of South Dakota said Graham and Cassidy would need "a double-double bank shot" to prevail, a joking reference to an impossible basketball shot.
Like the failed Senate GOP repeal effort in July, the Graham-Cassidy push likely will get zero Democratic support. That means Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., will need 50 of the 52 Republican senators to support the bill, a margin he couldn't reach in July and is struggling to reach now.
Despite badgering by President Donald Trump that he keep trying, McConnell has expressed no interest in staging yet another vote that produces an embarrassing rejection by the GOP-controlled Senate. Conservatives are wary because the bill falls short in erasing Obama's wide-ranging coverage requirements.
"I don't think this bill will go anywhere," said Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.
Graham said during his press conference the "only thing stopping us from having this idea debated on the floor of the United States Senate is lack of leadership."
He said he recently met with McConnell about his plan. Graham recounted that McConnell told him in order to get the bill to the floor the Congressional Budget Office needed to score the proposal and that Graham needed to secure 50 votes.
Graham conceded he could use more help from the party's leadership, including the president.
"This is a defining fight for the future of health care and the Republican Party," Graham said.
Trump issued a statement Wednesday afternoon endorsing the proposal.
"I applaud the Senate for continuing to work toward a solution to relieve the disastrous Obamacare burden on the American people," Trump said. "As I have continued to say, inaction is not an option, and I hope that Senators Graham and Cassidy have found a way to address the Obamacare crisis."
Schipp Ames, a spokesman for the S.C. Hospital Association, said Wednesday that hospital leaders in South Carolina had not seen the exact wording of Graham's bill but are "hopeful that this proposal will refocus the conversation on healthcare and providing equity to those states that did not expand Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act."
"We are anxious to see the CBO score," Ames said, "and grateful to Sen. Graham for listening to stakeholders in South Carolina’s medical community by attempting to level the playing field for non-expansion states."
Several Democratic senators, including Kamala Harris of California, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Cory Booker of New Jersey, have co-sponsored Sanders' bill, even though many experts believe it's a long shot, too.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, of California, a longtime backer of the single-payer idea, declined to endorse Sanders’ measure Tuesday. She told reporters her focus is defending President Barack Obama’s health care law from the all-but-dead Republican attempt to repeal it.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., noted that Democrats have introduced several bills on expanding coverage and said, “We’re looking at all of them.”