Moderate, conservative GOP leaders say they are nearing healthcare deal

Two Republican lawmakers say they are nearing a deal on changes to the ObamaCare replacement bill that could move the measure closer to passage, though doubts remain.

The compromise is being brokered between Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, and Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.), a co-chairman of the moderate Tuesday Group.

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According to a summary of the amendment obtained by Politico and confirmed to The Hill by MacArthur’s office, states would have the option to apply for waivers to opt out of some of ObamaCare’s core requirements. One of the limited waivers would allow insurers to charge higher premiums for people with pre-existing conditions as long as the state also offered high-risk pool coverage.

The measure would also allow states to repeal ObamaCare’s essential health benefits, which define the minimum benefits a plan can offer, including mental healthcare and prescription drugs.

While the new agreement could find support among more conservatives, moderates are likely to remain an obstacle.

"There's no deal," said an aide to a moderate House GOP lawmaker.

"I wouldn't be surprised if they started to lose more moderates" because of the new changes, the aide added.

A senior GOP aide on Thursday expressed doubt that the new agreement could pass. 

"The question is whether it can get 216 votes in the House, and the answer isn't clear at this time," the aide said. "There is no legislative text and therefore no agreement to do a whip count on."

Many Republicans objected to similar changes that were discussed before the recess earlier this month.

Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), the chief deputy GOP whip, called similar changes earlier this month a “bridge too far for our members.”

He said that he and much of the Republican conference wanted to maintain ObamaCare’s protection for people with pre-existing conditions.

Many moderate Republican lawmakers also pledged to protect that provision at town halls over the recess.

These new changes will be a test of whether moderate Republicans lawmakers will hold to that position.

Conservatives argue that funding for high-risk pools will allow people with pre-existing conditions to get coverage. Democrats counter that high-risk pools were underfunded and did not work before ObamaCare. 

The new amendment would also not change deep Medicaid cuts and coverage losses that moderates have objected to. 

A conference call for all House GOP lawmakers on Saturday will offer them a chance to discuss the changes.

This report was updated at 12:55 p.m.