Conservatives back revised health bill, Republican moderates balk
WASHINGTON — The moribund Republican health care bill received a jolt of life Wednesday when the conservative House Freedom Caucus endorsed a revised version of the measure. But a leading GOP moderate criticized the reshaped legislation as a conservative exercise in “blame-shifting and face-saving” that wasn’t winning new support from party centrists, leaving its fate unclear.
The embrace by the hard-line Freedom Caucus supplied fresh votes and momentum for GOP leaders, who also lined up behind the plan and crave a legislative victory for themselves and President Donald Trump. Opposition by most of the caucus’ roughly three dozen members was a major factor when House leaders canceled a vote on the legislation last month in a mortifying setback for the party.
The changes would let states escape a requirement under President Barack Obama’s health care law that insurers charge healthy and seriously ill customers the same rates. They could also be exempted from Obama’s mandate that insurers cover a list of services like maternity care, and from its bar against charging older customers more than triple their rates for younger ones.
Conservatives embraced the revisions as a way to lower people’s health care expenses, but moderates saw them as diminishing coverage because insurers could make policies for their most ill — and expensive — customers too costly for them to afford.
“I have always campaigned on making sure that no one is denied coverage based on pre-existing condition,” said Rep. Leonard Lance, R-N.J., who said he remained opposed to the legislation.
The Freedom Caucus turnabout also shifts pressure for passing the bill — a top priority for the GOP — onto party moderates. They are certain to come under intense lobbying from the White House and party leaders to jump on board.
Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said the proposal “helps us get to consensus,” but stopped short of saying it would win them enough votes to finally prevail.
Keeping GOP options for quick action alive, the House Rules Committee approved special procedures that could allow a sudden House vote on a health care bill through Saturday, though that seemed unlikely.