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South Dakota’s two Republican U.S. senators both say they support the latest GOP effort to replace former President Barack Obama’s health care law.

Sen. John Thune and Sen. Mike Rounds both believe the proposed law would address a failing system while benefiting states. Rounds called it “a step in the right direction” during a conference call with reporters Thursday.

“We can move forward with this particular approach to health care reform or we can leave ‘Obamacare’ in place,” he said. “Until such time as a perfect plan comes along, this is the binary choice today.”

Thune’s office also confirmed that the South Dakota Republican will vote for the new bill by Sens. Bill Cassidy and Lindsey Graham that would replace major pillars of the Affordable Care Act with block grants to states to design their own programs. President Donald Trump and Republican Senate leaders are trying to rally 50 Republican votes to pass the bill next week.

Both South Dakota senators have generally been supportive of dismantling “Obamacare.”

“It’s a commitment that we made,” Thune said in a recent televised interview with FOX Business Network. “Obamacare, as we know, is failing. It’s led to higher costs and higher taxes and fewer options for people in this country.”

South Dakota Democratic Party Executive Director Sam Parkinson criticized Thune and Rounds for supporting the bill.

“Tens of thousands of South Dakotans will lose their health care, and those who still have health care coverage will pay more for worse coverage,” Parkinson said in a statement.

The Cassidy-Graham bill would end the requirement that most people buy health coverage and that larger employers offer it to workers. It would let insurers charge higher premiums to seriously ill customers and cut Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor, over time.

One issue in dispute is whether it would protect people with pre-existing conditions. Thune and Rounds believe it will, but some opponents, including leading health advocacy groups, dispute that.

The law would end health insurance subsidies and provide $1.2 trillion in block grants to states over seven years, with fewer federal strings attached. However, a study by the consulting firm Avalere Health found that the bill would lead to an overall $215 billion cut to states in federal funding for health insurance, through 2026.

The study found 34 states would see cuts by 2026, but South Dakota isn’t among them. The state would see an increase of $1 billion, according to Avalere. A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation released Thursday showed a similar increase for South Dakota.

“This (bill) would fix part of an ongoing issue that we’ve had here where Native Americans who are served by Medicaid still require a state match under current law,” Rounds said. “This changes that, and the federal government, for Medicaid-eligible Native Americans, would assume 100 percent of the cost.”


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