Con­ser­va­tives torch new plan as “Oba­macare Lite,”

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Ri­cardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Alan Fram

WASH­ING­TON — A pow­er­ful con­ser­va­tive back­lash threat­ened to sink the new Repub­li­can health care bill Tues­day less than 24 hours af­ter its launch, even as Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and con­gres­sional lead­ers be­gan try­ing to sell the leg­is­la­tion as the long-promised GOP cure for so-called “Oba­macare.”

“We’re go­ing to do some­thing that’s great and I’m proud to sup­port the re­place­ment plan re­leased by the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives,” Trump de­clared at the White House as he met with the House GOP vote-count­ing team Tues­day. “We’re go­ing to take ac­tion. There’s go­ing to be no slow­ing down. There’s go­ing to be no wait­ing and no more ex­cuses by any­body.”

At the Capi­tol, Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence told GOP law­mak­ers this was their chance to scut­tle Obama’s law — a Repub­li­can goal since its 2010 pas­sage — and Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell fore­cast con­gres­sional ap­proval by early April.

But ma­jor ob­sta­cles loomed as key Repub­li­can law­mak­ers an­nounced their op­po­si­tion, and one con­ser­va­tive group af­ter an­other torched the plan. The Club for Growth, Her­itage Ac­tion for Amer­ica, Amer­i­cans for Pros­per­ity and the Tea Party Pa­tri­ots var­i­ously de­rided the new bill as “Oba­macare Lite,” “Oba­macare 2.0” and even “RyanCare,” in a dig at House Speaker Paul Ryan.

The new GOP plan would re­peal the cur­rent law’s un­pop­u­lar fines on peo­ple who don’t carry health in­surance. It also would re­place in­come-based sub­si­dies — which the law pro­vides to help mil­lions of Amer­i­cans pay pre­mi­ums — with age­based tax cred­its that may be skimpier for peo­ple with low in­comes.

The leg­is­la­tion also would limit fu­ture fed­eral fund­ing for Med­i­caid, which cov­ers low-in­come peo­ple, a group that ac­counts for about 1 in 5 Amer­i­cans. And it would loosen rules that for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s law im­posed for health plans di­rectly pur­chased by in­di­vid­u­als.

Repub­li­can sup­port­ers and op­po­nents are all in­tent on re­duc­ing the role of gov­ern­ment in health care, but some House con­ser­va­tives say the new bill doesn’t go nearly far enough. For ex­am­ple, they are fo­cus­ing on the sys­tem of re­fund­able tax cred­its they de­nounce as a costly new en­ti­tle­ment, and they are de­mand­ing a vote on a straight­for­ward re­peal-only bill.

The con­certed con­ser­va­tive op­po­si­tion was a re­mark­able re­buke to leg­is­la­tion GOP lead­ers hope will ful­fill seven years of prom­ises to re­peal and re­place Obama’s Af­ford­able Care Act, pledges that played out in count­less Repub­li­can cam­paigns for House and Se­nate as well as last year’s race for pres­i­dent. In­stead, the groups that are unit­ing to op­pose the new House leg­is­la­tion in­clude many that sprang up to op­pose pas­sage of Obama’s law in the first place.

“As the bill stands to­day, it is Oba­macare 2.0,” Amer­i­cans for Pros­per­ity and the Free­dom Part­ners Cham­ber of Com­merce said in a state­ment. “Mil­lions of Amer­i­cans would never see the im­prove­ments in care they were promised, just as Oba­macare failed to de­liver on its promis.es.”

Repub­li­cans are push­ing for­ward with­out of­fi­cial es­ti­mates from the Con­gres­sional Bud­get Of­fice on the cost of the bill and how many peo­ple would be cov­ered, al­though GOP law­mak­ers ac­knowl­edge they can’t hope to match the 20 mil­lion cov­ered un­der Obama’s law.

Democrats say the bill would leave many peo­ple unin­sured, shift­ing costs to states and hos­pi­tal sys­tems that act as providers of last re­sort. The bill also would cut more than 20 taxes en­acted un­der Obama’s heath law, with the bulk of the sav­ings go­ing to the wealth­i­est Amer­i­cans.

“This is a tax cut for the wealthy with some health in­surance pro­vi­sions tacked along­side of it,” said Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

Many con­ser­va­tives are hardly hap­pier.

The new leg­is­la­tion is “not the Oba­macare re­place­ment plan, not the Oba­macare re­peal plan we’ve been hop­ing for. This is in­stead a step in the wrong di­rec­tion,” Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said at an after­noon news con­fer­ence with Sen. Rand Paul of Ken­tucky and mem­bers of the House Free­dom Cau­cus.

Cau­cus mem­bers com­mand enough votes to take down the bill in the House.

Four GOP sen­a­tors — Rob Port­man of Ohio, Shel­ley Moore Capito of West Vir­ginia, Cory Gard­ner of Colorado and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski — said they would op­pose any new plan that would leave mil­lions of Amer­i­cans unin­sured, in­clud­ing ex­panded Med­i­caid.

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