WASHINGTON — A pair of must-have Republican congressmen reversed course to back House Republicans’ Obamacare repeal efforts on Wednesday, as House GOP leaders scramble to win over enough holdouts to pass their legislation ahead of a recess that could kill the bill.
Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), an influential voice on the issue and former head of a powerful healthcare committee, decided to come back aboard the bill after getting promises for more money to subsidize state high-risk pools where some people with preexisting conditions would have to buy their insurance. His decision comes after he and Rep. Billy Long (R-Mo.), another GOP holdout, met with President Trump at the White House on Wednesday.
“I think it is likely now to pass in the House,” Upton told reporters at the White House Wednesday afternoon.
Long told reporters back at Capitol Hill that he’d “always been a Trump supporter and I’ve always been a supporter of the underlying bill” but that changes to win over hardline conservatives that weakened protections for some people with preexisting conditions had lost his vote. The new funds — $8 billion over 5 years to help stabilize new high-risk pools for those with preexisting conditions — brought him back in the GOP fold.
Republicans are desperate to get enough supporters for a Thursday vote because they’re heading out on another weeklong break after that many believe will kill any momentum the bill has — and likely doom Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare for good. But GOP leaders are still a handful of votes short of getting the majority needed to pass the bill. And close to a dozen Republican congressmen who’d previously come out against the bill told the Daily News that the new changes made to appease Upton and Long didn’t win them over.
Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-Pa.) gave the thumbs down when asked if he was still a no vote, saying the bill has the “same problems” as before.
“It’s the Medicaid problem in the state, it’s the AARP problem with seniors, it’s all the hospitals and doctors being against it,” he said.
Rep. Ryan Costello (R-Pa.) said that returning to full protections for people with preexisting conditions was still a “sticking point” for him — and that more money for the programs short-term doesn’t solve the “underlying policy.”
“It would I believe the intention there is to pay down the premium for those in the high-risk pools. How much, for how long?” he said.
Republican leaders were desperately scrambling to find a way to get enough holdouts to fall in line as of Wednesday afternoon, having quiet conversations to see if they could make any changes around the margins to solve certain members’ parochial concerts concerns.
“Anytime you get panicky, that’s what they are, panicky, you start making little tweaks here, ‘I’ll make you happy, I’ll make you happy,’ and then what the hell do you have when it’s all said and done? Nobody knows,” said Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), an iconoclastic Republican member who said he remains a hard no on the bill. “I don’t think it’s a good bill.”
House Republicans made the Upton-backed changes official on Wednesday afternoon, announcing that there would be $8 billion for the Patient and State Stability Fund for states who get waivers to opt out of requirements that insurance companies cover preexisting conditions for everyone in their state.
“These resources will allow people with pre-existing conditions who haven’t maintained continuous coverage to acquire affordable care,” a senior GOP aide said in a description of the change, arguing the bill already provided “significant protections for people with pre-existing conditions, but these additional resources help ensure affordable coverage for individuals in states that have received a waiver.”
But a number of members said they remained unmoved.
“They’re all working hard on it but my position is the same,” Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) said.