Short on healthcare votes, GOP leaders try to ease concerns

Short on healthcare votes, GOP leaders try to ease concerns
© Greg Nash

House GOP leaders, acknowledging they do not have the votes to pass their ObamaCare replacement bill, sought to ease concerns that the new legislation would weaken protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

GOP lawmakers attending a closed-door conference meeting said their leadership gave no timeline for a vote on the bill, despite hopes from the White House that the vote count was getting closer and that it could happen this week.

“I certainly think they want to vote this week. I don’t know whether there will be one,” said Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.) after the closed-door meeting.

Lawmakers leaving the GOP conference meeting said they were told leadership is “close” to the 216 votes needed for a majority, but many representatives still have concerns about how the bill would impact people with pre-existing conditions.

It's not clear how close the GOP actually is to winning the support necessary to get 216 votes on the floor. 

In a major move, former Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said Tuesday he will vote "no" on the bill, citing concerns about weakening pre-existing condition protections.

Upton, who was a healthcare leader for Republicans as a committee chairman, noted in a radio interview with WHTC that the conservative Freedom Caucus insisted on the new amendment, which he blames for weakening pre-existing condition protections. 

"I’ve supported the practice of not allowing pre-existing illnesses to be discriminated against from the very get-go," Upton said. "This amendment torpedoes that and I told leadership I cannot support this bill with this provision in it."
Illustrating the divide in the Republican conference, Upton said he met with some Freedom Caucus members on Monday about his concerns but "they're not willing to budge, at least at this point."

He said "a good number of us" don't want to go along with the Freedom Caucus change to weaken ObamaCare protections, though.

"We're not going to budge either," Upton said. 

Rep. Billy Long (R-Mo.) also surprisingly came out in opposition to the bill on Monday, saying it failed to preserve ObamaCare’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

“What does that literally mean for individuals with pre-existing conditions? That’s what I’ve been trying to figure out myself,” said Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.), who was a "lean yes" on the bill before the changes, but is now undecided.

There are 22 Republicans opposed to the bill, just one away from the maximum number of defections leaders can afford while still passing the bill, according to The Hill’s Whip List.

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Ryan8th graders refuse to take photo with Paul Ryan Dems plot recess offensive on ObamaCare President Trump needs to make some huuuge changes, and soon MORE (R-Wis.) argued as he answered questions about pre-existing conditions during the meeting that there are multiple “layers” of protections in the bill, lawmakers said, a case he made to reporters after the meeting as well.

The revised bill would allow states to waive ObamaCare protections preventing people with from being charged more based on their health, which could lead to exorbitant premiums that put coverage out of reach.

Leaders, though, argued that the layers of protection still included high-risk pools and protections from higher premiums for people if they had no gaps in coverage.

“Some things haven’t changed: We want to bring the bill forward when we have the votes,” said Rep. Luke Messer (R-Ind.), a member of GOP leadership, after the meeting. “We’re very close. Part of what we have to work through is more clearly articulating how the bill protects pre-existing conditions.”

House Republicans said they are planning to focus their end of the week policy meeting on Thursday on discussing healthcare further.

“I’m optimistic that we’re close, but again, there’s no date. There’s no promises,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) told reporters on Tuesday, adding that he still thinks it’s “realistic” to have a vote this week.

“I think we’re very close.”

Scott Wong contributed.