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GOP's proposed health overhaul concerns Rhode Island leaders

Matt o'Brien, Associated Press

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) -- Rhode Island's Democratic leaders said Tuesday a new Republican health care bill proposed in the U.S. House of Representatives could harm the state.

Gov. Gina Raimondo said the plan to repeal former President Barack Obama's health care law puts thousands of Rhode Island residents at risk of losing care and will make health care more expensive for those who can least afford it.

"I will do everything in my power to oppose Trumpcare, which benefits millionaires at the expense of hardworking Rhode Islanders and would destroy our progress to provide affordable, quality health care to almost all of our people," said a written statement from Raimondo, who was attending an investment firm's annual conference in Arizona.

The new health bill was released Monday as congressional Republicans and President Donald Trump try to make good on campaign promises to repeal and replace Obama's Affordable Care Act.

Raimondo said Obama's reforms have worked in Rhode Island, which has one of the nation's lowest uninsured rates. She said the state also has successfully controlled Medicaid costs without reducing benefits or eligibility.

The state's two members of the U.S. House, Democratic Reps. David Cicilline and Jim Langevin, also criticized the proposal Tuesday. So did the state Senate's health committee chairman, Democratic Sen. Josh Miller, who said it would make more people uninsured and the health system more expensive.

In January, Raimondo wrote to U.S. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy asking the California Republican to maintain existing coverage gains realized under former President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, and to avoid transferring costs to states.

She also urged them not to make any destabilizing changes to the financing and market structure that would lead to rate shock or insurer flight. She said states should have the freedom to experiment and the discretion to retain reforms that have worked.

Raimondo has credited Obama's health care law with getting health access to nearly 110,000 Rhode Island residents, through an expansion of federal Medicaid coverage and through a state-based exchange, known as HealthSource RI. The House GOP plan would end the higher federal match for Medicaid expansion beneficiaries, starting in 2020.

Miller said he and other state legislators in the Democratic-controlled General Assembly have been working since the November election on drafting legislation that would preserve some of Obamacare's essential benefits even if they are repealed at the federal level.

"Compared to other states, we've really stabilized the cost of care in Rhode Island," Miller said. "The policies available on the exchange here, some of them actually went down in cost. We have an uninsured rate that's one of the lowest in the country. That creates stability."

State figures show the uninsured rate has dropped to 4.2 percent, from nearly 12 percent in 2012, and there have been rate decreases in two of the last three years.

Miller said the only promising thing coming out of the Capitol Hill proposal is its delayed timeline: giving several years before the proposed repeal of expanded Medicaid.

Rhode Island health officials have estimated it will cost more than $200 million a year for the state to maintain that expanded Medicaid population. Miller hopes the extra time allows the millions of affected people nationwide to vote the overhaul's proponents out of office.

"The upside of it is it's not until 2020, and I think a lot of these people proposing this will be gone," Miller said.