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On eve of health care rollout, Heller says his vote still up-for-grabs

Top Senate Republicans prepared Wednesday to release their plan for dismantling President Barack Obama's health care law, a proposal that would cut and revamp Medicaid, end penalties on people not buying coverage and eliminate tax increases that financed the statute's expansion of coverage, lobbyists and congressional aides said. (MGN Online)

Thursday morning, the nation sees how a group of Senate Republicans wants to repeal and replace Obamacare. They roll out their version of the House health care bill that arrived dead on arrival in the U.S. Senate and that even President Donald Trump called “mean.”

“I’m going to take a copy of that bill and read it this weekend,” U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nevada, told me by phone from Washington on Wednesday, “and get a copy over to the governor’s office so they can look at it, too.”

Heller is getting lots of advice, which you don’t have to look far to see. Just turn on your television.

“Nevadans need Senator Heller to vote no on health care repeal,” says one ad, run by a group called “Save My Care.”

On KSNV-TV alone, nearly $1 million in health care-related advertisements have been running, all with one goal: Put Dean Heller on the health care hot seat.

“Why on Heller? He's the most vulnerable Republican incumbent running for reelection to the U.S. Senate in a state won by Hillary Clinton, so they think they can turn him with pressure,” says Jon Ralston, editor of the Nevada Independent.

Heller hasn't seen the bill yet and tells me he’s not a fan of how his fellow group of Republican senators have been crafting it. While he’s critical of what he says was a Democratic lack of transparency during the construction of Obamacare — which Democrats dispute — Heller is critical of this latest GOP effort.

“The bottom line is it doesn’t make it right that we’re doing the exact same thing, and I think there should have been hearings on this,” Heller tells me. “I think the public should have had more input, not just the public, but the experts — the providers, doctors, nurses, hospitals.”

He told my by phone from Washington what his yardstick will be.

“I'll put it this way, Jeff: if the bill's good and it's good for the state of Nevada, I will vote for it. If I determine, after I see the bill, read it over the weekend, look at the CBO numbers, and talk to our governor, it's not good for the state of Nevada, I will vote against it,” he says.

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval was the first Republican governor to sign on to Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, which brought health care to hundreds of thousands of Nevadans. On the table now is ending the federal funding that paid for states like Nevada to do that.

Heller supports a gradual, seven-year phase-out but tells me he would have been open to a longer time frame.

“If they asked me two or 10 years, I’d have said 10. If they asked me two or 15, I probably would have said 15,” he says.

The bill will, in some fashion, curtail the Medicaid expansion.

“But I just want to make sure that if, in fact, that’s the reality of the situation that a state like Nevada is protected, so the legislature can come in several cycles and be able to deal with it and make the necessary changes to help Medicaid recipients out,” Heller says.

The Congressional Budget Office — that's the CBO — said the house bill would leave 23 million Americans uninsured.

Heller wants to see what the senate bill would do.

“If it’s anything close to what the House bill did, I said I wouldn’t support the House bill,” he says.

What Democrats are doing is looking to 2018.

U.S. Rep. Jacky Rosen — who represents the 3rd District — is nearing a Heller challenge. Health care will play big.

"I'm planning to run for Senate, and my official announcement will come soon,” Rosen said in a statement to News 3.

Coming sooner will be the Senate health care bill — and TV ads that won't stop.

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