Doubts remain on Capitol Hill about GOP health care bill as vote looms

Rep. Chris Stewart told KUTV he has concerns about the Republican health care bill but will vote for it. (SBG)

While former Vice President Joe Biden celebrated the seventh anniversary of the passage of the Affordable Care Act Wednesday with House Democrats, the House Rules Committee was debating the Republican effort to replace the law.

Democrats have applauded the massive reduction in the percentage of Americans without health insurance due to the law, often referred to as Obamacare. Republicans blame the changes made by the ACA for rising premiums and deductibles and say it has left too many patients without choices for their care.

The Republican bill, called the American Health Care Act, would eliminate Obamacare’s mandate for people to have insurance and provisions that they say limited choices and forced patients into one-size-fits-all plans with coverage they did not need. It replaces the current subsidy system for lower income families on the individual market with an age-based tax credit.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated 24 million people could lose health insurance, including some who would voluntarily drop it with the mandate removed and others who could no longer afford it. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates the changes made by the bill could raise premiums as well.

Republicans have disputed those figures, but Democrats say they are compelling reasons to reject the bill.

“It would knock about 24 or 25 million off of coverage,” said Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Tex. “It would jack up prices for senior citizens, many of whom are no longer working and on fixed incomes, and make it harder for them to pay for health care.”

With the House voting on the bill Thursday, Republicans are facing intense pressure from their leadership and the White House to get on board.

Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, acknowledged some concerns about the bill, but “at the end of the day, we have to vote for it.”

“If we don’t pass this bill tomorrow, how are we going to do tax reform, how are we going to do regulatory reform?” he said.

Stewart insisted Republicans do not want to leave Americans uninsured and want to make coverage affordable, but he said people should have the freedom to choose not to be insured if they want.

“Nothing in this bill will take anyone’s health care coverage away,” he claimed.

President Trump himself has been increasingly involved in selling the AHCA to reluctant lawmakers and red state voters, but he may not have swayed enough of them to get the bill passed.

Trump has warned that if Republicans fail to keep their promise to repeal and replace Obamacare, they could lose the House majority in 2018, but some of the bill’s GOP critics worry that its unpopularity will hurt their chances too.

Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., pointed to Trump’s own words over the past few months and his claims that the replacement plan would provide better coverage for everyone.

“President Trump himself is breaking the promise on health care,” he said. “He said that there will be no increase in the uninsured, everyone will have coverage, everyone will love this, and in fact that is clearly wrong.”

According to Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, the AHCA would endanger the opioid addiction treatment of 200,000 people in his state, which they can only afford because of the ACA.

“I cannot imagine that a bill like that can pass either house when you think of the terrible impact that would have on so many families in Ohio and across the country,” he said.

Earlier this week, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said adjustments were being made to the bill in an effort to appeal to some of its GOP critics, but many remain unmoved. The House Freedom Caucus said Wednesday that more than 25 members would vote no and Congress should just “start over.”

The House will vote without a revised CBO score on the changes made to the legislation this week.

Despite the headaches for the Trump administration trying to usher the bill through the House, greater challenges await in the Senate. With a slim Republican majority and united Democratic opposition, there is little room for defections.

Sen. Luther Strange, R-Ala., said he looks forward to reviewing the bill when it reaches the Senate, but Republicans need to keep their word to their constituents.

“I think the voters of Alabama would be very unhappy if we didn’t keep the promises we made and didn’t support the president in his commitment to repeal and replace Obamacare,” Strange said.

He will judge the bill by its impact on the people of Alabama and how closely it reflects his principles of “making sure that the private sector is as involved as possible, we bring free market reforms to the process, and we give people freedom.”

The AHCA needs to clear the House first, though, and if the Freedom Caucus claim that 25 members will vote against it on Thursday is true, that may never happen.

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