Health bill gains new life with a chance of passage closer

WASHINGTON (AP) — A pair of moderate Republicans who’d been holdouts against the GOP health care bill said Wednesday they were now backing the high-profile legislation after winning President Donald Trump’s support for their proposal for reviving the languishing measure.

The conversions of Reps. Fred Upton, R-Mich., and Billy Long, R-Mo., could breathe new life into the sagging Republican push to deliver their long-standing promise repeal former President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul. Upton and others said they believed the House could pass the legislation Thursday.

There was no immediate announcement of a vote. And it was initially unclear if the proposed revision would attract enough support to pull one of the party’s top priorities out of the legislative ditch where it’s resided for weeks.

An aide to Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., one of the House’s highest-profile moderates, said Dent remained opposed to the GOP health care bill. He and other moderates have complained that the legislation erodes protections under Obama’s law by opening the door for insurers to charge people with pre-existing illnesses unaffordable premiums.

Upton and Long’s proposal would provide $8 billion over five years to help some people with pre-existing medical conditions afford coverage. Upton said their plan would put “downward pressure” on premium costs.

A supporter of the legislation, Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., said that at the least, backing from Upton and Long “breaks the momentum of drift away from the bill” among GOP moderates.

Upton and Long were among four House members who met with Trump at the White House. Also attending the White House meeting were the current Energy and Commerce chairman, Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., and Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, who heads a health subcommittee.

“Today we’re here announcing that with this addition that we brought to the president, and sold him on in over an hour meeting in here with him, that we’re both yesses on the bill,” Long told reporters at the White House.

Democrats remained solidly opposed to the legislation.

“This is a terrible bill made worse by this hoax on pre-existing conditions,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters. She said the new changes don’t improve the bill and instead are “an assault on the good health of the American people.”

An initial health care bill imploded in March under opposition by conservative and moderate Republicans. The overall bill would cut Medicaid, repeal tax boosts on higher-earning people, eliminate Obama’s fines on people who don’t buy insurance and give many of them smaller federal subsidies.

For weeks, House leaders have lacked the votes for their drive to repeal much of Obama’s 2010 law, especially among moderate Republicans. Some have said they were within single digits of getting the 216 votes needed to prevail.

Upton’s conversion was especially significant because he’s a respected, centrist voice on health issues and former chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Before the White House meeting, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., praised the proposal and said the GOP was getting “extremely close” to finally being able to pass the stalled legislation.

The proposal “is something that nobody has a problem with, and it’s actually helping” round up support for the bill, Ryan said on radio’s “The Hugh Hewitt Show.”

Including Upton and Long, The Associated Press has counted 21 GOP lawmakers opposing the Republican bill, one shy of the 22 needed to kill it, assuming all Democrats vote no.

At least 11 others said they were undecided, but all the figures are subject to fluctuation as both sides lobby heavily.

The existing health care measure would let states get federal waivers allowing insurers to charge higher premiums to people with pre-existing illnesses who’d let their coverage lapse. To get the waiver, the state must have a high-risk pool or another mechanism to help such people afford a policy.

Opponents said that would effectively deny such people coverage by letting insurers charge them unaffordable prices. They say high-risk pools have a mixed record because government money financing them often proves inadequate.

The money in Upton’s plan would help people with pre-existing illnesses pay premiums in states where insurers can charge them more.

There’s already around $130 billion in the legislation states could use to help people afford insurance, but critics have said that’s just a fraction of what would be needed for adequate coverage.

Under Obama’s law, insurers must charge healthy and seriously ill customers the same rates. The bill’s supporters say it protects those with pre-existing conditions and that the exclusion would affect only some of them.