GOP bill hung up on pre-existing conditions

Greg Nash

Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) on Tuesday became the latest House Republican to come out against the ObamaCare repeal-and-replace bill, underlining how the legislation is losing support from lawmakers who fear it could hurt people with pre-existing health conditions.  

Some lawmakers expressed doubts that the healthcare bill would come up for a vote this week despite a push from House leaders to get it to the floor before a one-week recess.

“I guess all things are possible, but at least right now I don’t see that happening,” said Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.), who said there are too many “no” votes piling up.  

{mosads}The opposition from Upton, a former chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, was significant. He is widely respected on the issue, having written healthcare legislation in the past, and described the changes to the bill as a bridge too far.

“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.”

The revised bill would allow states to waive certain ObamaCare protections that now prevent insurers from charging people more based on their health. 

The provision — inserted to win over the House Freedom Caucus — has become perhaps the biggest obstacle to passing the healthcare bill, causing members like Upton to turn against it.

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and other GOP leaders tried to tackle the issue during a conference meeting Tuesday, telling members there are “layers” of protection for the sick in the bill. Those protections include the creation of new high-risk pools for people shut out of coverage, and a provision stipulating that people with continuous insurance coverage can’t be denied for pre-existing conditions.

Those assurances weren’t enough for Upton. While there has been some chatter of adding more money for high-risk pools to try to win support for the bill, Upton rejected that idea, telling The Hill, “More money does not do the trick.”

Similarly, Rep. Billy Long (R-Mo.) on Monday surprised Republicans by announcing he could not vote for the healthcare bill. Like Upton, he said the measure fails to protect people with pre-existing conditions. 

Republicans are also dealing with a viral video from late night host Jimmy Kimmel, who on his talk show recounted a story about how his infant son Billy was born with a heart condition.

Kimmel tearfully told his audience that all children should be assured of getting the care his son received, and argued that the protections in ObamaCare for people with pre-existing health conditions should be retained.

“Before 2014, if you were born with congenital heart disease like my son was, there was a good chance you would never be able to get health insurance because you had a pre-existing condition,” Kimmel said. “You were born with a pre-existing condition, and if your parents didn’t have medical insurance, you might not even live long enough to get denied because of a pre-existing condition.”

Former President Barack Obama tweeted out the Kimmel video, stating “that’s exactly why we fought so hard for the [Affordable Care Act], and why we need to protect it for kids like Billy.”

Republicans are under pressure from the White House to get the healthcare bill passed before they leave town for a one-week recess, and GOP leaders aren’t giving up. 

Majority Whip Steve Scalise told The Hill that his team has been picking up yes votes daily and remains hopeful a vote could be held soon. The Louisiana Republican had already heard last week that Upton and Long were not going to vote for the legislation and said he wasn’t surprised by the developments. 

“We pulled Fred out and Billy out last week from the yes column,” Scalise said. “We’re still talking to both of them. We have not given up on either. But we had already moved them.”

Lawmakers are expecting to discuss healthcare further at their end-of-the-week policy conference on Thursday. 

“I think at this point it either passes by Thursday or we’ll have to find a Plan B or C,” said Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus.  

Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.), a senior member of the whip team, added, “The longer it festers, I think, the more difficult it is to pass.” 

Weakening pre-existing condition protections in the new bill has emerged as the main concern among the Republican holdouts. 

A study from the liberal Center for American Progress on Tuesday found that the high-risk pools in the GOP bill are underfunded by $200 billion over 10 years and would not provide enough funding to make coverage affordable for sick people.  

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.

“We’re not going to budge, either,” Upton said. 

Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.), the author of the new amendment, said there are “some talks” about adding more money for high-risk pools to try to win over moderates, but he doubted that would sway many on its own. 

Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), a member of the moderate Tuesday Group, said time is running out for getting a repeal bill passed. 

“The progression of time is not our friend in getting this over the finish line,” Collins said Tuesday. 

“There’s more and more protests coming out and distorted statements coming out around the country from different groups that puts pressure on members to turn from a lean yes to a no,” he added.  

Several advocacy groups, including the American Medical Association and the American Hospital Association, have slammed the revised bill, saying it would raise costs for sick people. 

“There’s not many groups out there standing on top of the hill with a megaphone saying that we got to get this passed,” Collins said.  

Some moderates also have concerns about the underlying legislation, which would effectively end ObamaCare’s expansion of Medicaid and which the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found would result in 24 million more people becoming uninsured.   

Some moderates worry the changes would contradict previous statements they’ve made about protecting people with pre-existing conditions.  

“If a bill that’s ultimately going to get to the floor contradicts statements that I’ve made, that becomes problematic for me and other members,” said Rep. Ryan Costello (R-Pa.), who has said he’ll vote no on the bill.  

Costello’s office later sought to clarify he was only speaking for himself.

— Scott Wong contributed. Updated 10:51 p.m.  

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