AILSA CHANG, HOST:
The Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act had its one and only hearing today on Capitol Hill. The bill's fate is still uncertain even as its main authors, senators Bill Cassidy from Louisiana and Lindsey Graham from South Carolina, circulate a new draft in an attempt to entice both moderates and conservatives.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
But Republican senators Rand Paul and John McCain remain against the bill, while all eyes are on Maine's Susan Collins, who says she is leaning against. And then there's Lisa Murkowski from Alaska. She hasn't said what she'll do, but she was one of three senators to vote against the Senate's previous repeal attempt in July.
CHANG: Today's hearing was full of drama.
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UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) No cuts to Medicaid. Save our liberty. No cuts to Medicaid...
CHANG: That's a chant of no cuts to Medicaid, save our liberty coming from disability advocates, many in wheelchairs. They pro-state - they protested in and outside the committee room, and the hearing was delayed while police officers dragged many away. Here to talk about today's events is NPR health policy correspondent Alison Kodjak. Hi, Alison.
ALISON KODJAK, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.
CHANG: So tell us a little more about what happened today.
KODJAK: Yeah, so that group of disability rights advocates showed up really many hours early. They waited in the hallways outside the committee room to get their places. There weren't a lot of seats for the public. And as soon as the hearings started they just started shouting that chant that you just heard. The senators couldn't proceed, so Senator Hatch called a recess and delayed the hearing as the Capitol police were forced to drag or wheel a lot of the people out of the room and down the halls. It really made for some unsettling images.
CHANG: I can imagine. What specifically were they protesting? What's in the bill that concerns them so much?
KODJAK: Well, what they were saying in that chant was they were saying no cuts to Medicaid. They're concerned - Medicaid actually covers many, many of the people with severe disabilities in this country. And the way - what this bill would do was limit Medicaid funding over time. Right now the program pays for all the needs of all the people who are in the program. And this bill would cap that per beneficiary.
So over time it wouldn't grow as much. And most experts say it wouldn't grow as quickly as health care inflation. It also actually cuts the expansion of Medicaid back. So under the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid was expanded. That would disappear. And most experts also say this bill would weaken consumer protections for people with pre-existing conditions.
CHANG: So Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana testified at the hearing. Who else did the committee hear from?
KODJAK: He was a witness and so was Senator Lindsey Graham, his co-sponsor, which was pretty uncommon to have the sponsors of the bill testify.
KODJAK: But everything about this process has been kind of strange. The Republicans are trying to pass it with no Democrat support, and they're facing a deadline of this week. Senator John McCain, he is opposing this bill precisely for that reason. He wants the bill to go through regular process, which includes hearings, debates, amendments. Today was sort of an effort to do a little bit of that. It seemed to be a little bit more of a show hearing to make it seem like the bill's going through that process. But it didn't convince Senator McCain. There were some experts answering questions.
KODJAK: But it doesn't look like anything's going to change as a result of this hearing.
CHANG: So what next?
KODJAK: Well, the bill is expected to come to a vote later this week. But along with Senator McCain and Rand Paul saying they're opposed, there are a handful of other senators who are on the fence, most notably Senator Collins of Maine. She says she's worried about those consumer protections and Medicaid. And she's waiting for this Congressional Budget Office score which we're expecting any minute but hasn't come out yet.
CHANG: All right, that's NPR's Alison Kodjak. Thanks, Alison.
KODJAK: Thanks, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.