As House Republicans prepare to take up Obamacare repeal and replacement after the Easter recess, President Trump and his allies are on the offensive, threatening to withhold funds from insurers to rope in some Democrats votes and supporting the campaigns of lawmakers who backed the GOP leadership bill that failed last month.
Meanwhile, members of the House Rules Committee stayed behind at the beginning of the recess to pass an amendment approved by members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, which was blamed by Trump and other Republican leaders for last month’s failure.
On March 24, House Speaker Paul Ryan was forced to pull from the floor the repeal-and-plan promoted by President Trump after failing to garner enough support from his party, which controls both the House and the Senate. Efforts to compromise with the Freedom Caucus led to several moderate Republicans bailing out.
Some of the members who did lend their support to the Ryan plan are getting a boost from a new political action committee founded by allies of President Trump, America First Policies.
The group launched a $3 million ad buy Monday to support 12 Republican House members. For now, Lifezette reported, the PAC won’t attack Republicans who didn’t support the American Health Care Act.
Just prior to the Easter recess, House Freedom Caucus Chairman Rep. Mark Meadows planned to deliver an Obamacare repeal and replacement plan to Speaker Ryan that would leave in place the existing law’s mandates for insurers to cover people with pre-existing conditions.
Meadows told USA Today the plan was based on conversations he had with Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-N.J., co-chairman of the Tuesday Group, which is comprised of more moderate House Republicans.
Meadows cautioned that the plan hasn’t necessarily been approved by the Tuesday Group.
“What we’re trying to do is work through issues that are important to all of us but make sure that pre-existing conditions are taken care of,” he said.
After the recess began, the Rules Committee passed an amendment supported by Freedom Caucus members that offers a variation of the high-risk pools plan proposed by House Speaker Ryan, which removes the costliest patients from the general insurance pool and creates a separate one supported by public funds, the Washington Examiner reported.
The Palmer-Schweikert amendment, named after House Freedom Caucus members Reps. Gary Palmer of Alaska and David Schweikert of Arizona, would set aside $15 billion for states to reimburse health insurance for covering costlier patients.
The aim is to lower premiums while still guaranteeing access to coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.
Freedom Caucus ‘yes, yes, yes’
The House Freedom Caucus, in its effort to roll back more of Obamacare than the GOP leadership has proposed, has borne the brunt of the blame for failure of American Health Care Act, but caucus member Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va., said in a radio interview Tuesday he and his HFC colleagues got to “yes” on several different provisions.
After the House GOP plan was pulled, Trump criticized the HFC, tweeting: “Freedom Caucus will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don’t get on the team, & fast. We must fight them, & Dems, in 2018!”
The Washington Times noted that just before the Easter break, the two Republican factions allegedly were close to an agreement, supported by the White House, to allow states to opt out of Obamacare’s provision to preexisting medical conditions, but the deal never materialized.
Brat said members got to a “yes” on several proposals offered by President Trump on regulations and “then someone said no.”
Vice President Mike Pence offered another compromise that allowed states some flexibility on regulations, Brat pointed out.
“And we said yes to that deal, in public, in the newspapers,” he said. “And still it’s reported like the House Freedom Caucus is holding this thing back. So someone said no to that.”
“And I said, OK, dear press, go win a Pulitzer,” Brat said. “See if you can find out where the no is. [Because] the Freedom Caucus has been yes, yes, yes.”
Back at home, halfway through the recess, Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., argued at a town hall that the GOP leadership plan “didn’t repeal Obamacare.”
“It basically restructured Obamacare, and it didn’t resolve any of the problems, and in fact some of the changes would have made Obamacare even worse.”
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal last week, Trump said he might end the payments to insurance companies to cover low-income subscribers to force Democrats to the negotiating table.
Some 7 million people, or 58 percent, of those who signed up for Obamacare coverage for 2017 qualify for the cost-sharing subsidies, CNN noted.
Without the payments, CBS News explained, insurance companies could raise rates across the board, making insurance unaffordable for many more people.
“If Congress doesn’t approve [the payments], or if I don’t approve it, that would mean that Obamacare doesn’t have enough money so it dies immediately as opposed to over a period of time,” Trump said.
“Even if it got that money, it dies, but it dies over a period of time,” the president said.
He added he’s “not sure” whether lawmakers will appropriate the necessary funds.
Trump, however, seemed to indicate he would ultimately leave the decision to Congress.
“If they approve it, then I will have to approve it,” he said. “Otherwise, those payments don’t get made and Obamacare is gone, just gone.”
On Tuesday, health insurance executives met with Seema Verma, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, to press for a continuation of the payments, the Hill reported.
Verma made no commitment to continue the payments, sources said. She added that the insurers should also speak to Congress about the issue.
The New York Times explained the Obamacare marketplaces created by the Affordable Care Act have always relied on the voluntary participation of private companies.
But in some state, such as Tennessee, none of this year’s insurers want to sell insurance next year. Other counties have only one carrier, and in some, that carrier appears ready to leave.