US Republicans revive health bill, speaker cites progress

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US Republicans revive health bill, speaker cites progress

Washington (AFP) – The top US Republican in Congress claimed progress Thursday on a new effort to repeal the Obamacare health law, but he signaled a vote was unlikely this week.

President Donald Trump has been pressuring his party’s lawmakers for a major legislative victory to attach to his 100th day in office, which falls on Saturday. 

In that vein, Republicans this week introduced an amendment to the health care reform legislation that collapsed last month, in the hopes of bringing together several moderates and conservatives who opposed the original bill.

“We continue to make real progress in our work to repeal and replace Obamacare,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said, citing the amendment put forward by Congressman Tom MacArthur, co-chair of the Tuesday Group of House Republican moderates.

Seeing that Democrats will almost certainly unite against the plan, any health care deal would have to play the tricky game of winning over both conservatives and moderates in the Republican Party to surpass the 50 percent threshold of 216 votes in the House of Representatives.

Ryan said he believed the two GOP factions would be “coalescing” around the amendment. 

But despite his optimism, the speaker declined to name a date for a vote on the measure.

“We’ve not yet made any decisions on a vote,” he told reporters. “We’re going to go when we have the votes.”

Several conservatives wanted to see the bill lift burdensome and costly regulations that require insurance companies to keep a standard package of “essential health benefits” — such as maternity care and hospitalization — as part of their base coverage.

The new amendment controversially would allow states to opt out of including the benefits. They could also choose not to provide the so-called community rating provision, which requires insurers to charge the same for people regardless of their health status.

The revision gained momentum Wednesday, when the House Freedom Caucus, a group of hardline conservatives that spearheaded opposition to Trump’s initial plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act, gave its approval to the new version.

Some moderate Republicans remained skeptical, including another Tuesday Group co-chair, Charlie Dent.

“The members of our group who were previously opposed to the underlying bill are probably still opposed based on the amendment,” Dent said.

Dent expressed concern that the Obamacare subsidies that help lower and moderate income people buy insurance have been reduced too dramatically in the new legislation.

A non-partisan congressional review last month predicted that under the Republican plan, 24 million more people would be uninsured by 2026 than under the current law.

The revised bill has been savaged by Democrats.

“This version is worse,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, citing a provision that would allow states to decide whether or not insurers have to cover Americans with preexisting conditions.

US Speaker of the House Paul Ryan leaves after a press conference following the Republican Conference meeting at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, April 26, 2017
Copyright AFP SAUL LOEB

 

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