2 House panels OK GOP health bill
If it wins House approval, as expected, the bill will go the Senate, where stiff opposition is expected.
The Republican drive to repeal former President Barack Obama’s health care law advanced Thursday as two House committees approved broad legislation to undo the law and replace it with a more modest system of tax credits and a rollback of Medicaid expansion.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee endorsed the legislation on a party-line vote of 31-23 after a session that lasted more than 27 hours. The House Ways and Means Committee had approved the measure in a predawn session on Thursday. The House Budget Committee must give its approval to the measure next week before a final House vote that House Speaker Paul Ryan plans for the week of March 20.
Republicans said they were fulfilling a political promise to uproot a law that had done untold damage. Democrats said the bill would rip health insurance away from millions of Americans and increase costs for many others, and they have the backing of a growing number of senators,
health care providers and some conservatives.
But Republicans on both House panels held together and rejected a variety of Democratic amendments while doing little to change the health bill.
Many of the amendments were drafted to make Repub- licans look heartless or rash, forcing them to cast votes that could be cited in campaign advertisements in next year’s midterm elections.
“T o day marks the beginning of the end of Obamacare,” Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., the majority whip, said after the votes Thursday. “This bill guts Obamacare and starts put- ting patients back in charge of their health care, without government bureaucrats tell- ing them what they can or cannot buy.”
Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, said the bill represented the big- gest change in federal enti- tlement programs since the creation of Medicaid in 1965.
The bill would replace Medicaid’s open-ended enti- tlement with a per-benefi- ciary allotment of federal money for low-income people. It would also cut federal payments to states for the expansion of Medicaid — a change that has caused deep concern among governors of both parties and Republican senators from states that expanded Medicaid, like Ohio, Colorado and West Virginia.
“This is the most radical rewrite to Medicaid that we have seen in decades,” said Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla. “The bill will rip coverage away from many of our neighbors.”
Moments before the bill emerged from the Energy
and Commerce Committee, Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., said: “The fix is in. Republicans will get the votes. That’s the bad news. The good news is that Democrats stayed here
all night and put up a spir- ited fight.”
If it wins House approval, as expected, the bill will go the Senate, where lawmak- ers from both parties continue to lodge their oppo- sition. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., a conservative who
has largely stuck with lead- ership, took to Twitter on Thursday morning to voice his concerns.
“House health care bill can’t pass Senate w/o major changes,” Cotton wrote, adding in a subsequent post, “What matters in long run is better, more affordable health care for Americans, NOT House leaders’ arbi- trary legislative calendar.”
Even the chief medical offi- cer of Medicaid, Dr. Andrey Ostrovsky, broke with the leadership of the Department of Health and Human
Services and endorsed the position of health care providers, opposing the Republican bill.
Among other proposals, Republicans on the Ways and Means Committee turned back Democratic amend
ments requiring that peo- ple not lose health coverage under the Republican legislation and that the plan not increase out-of-pocket costs for older people, a critical issue for the AARP.
The consideration by the Ways and Means Commit- tee amounted to a procedural step on the way to a full House vote on the health plan. Hour after hour passed with Democrats airing their grievances about the legislation and offering symbolic amendments meant to get Republican members on the record about their views.
“This is a historic step, an important step, in the repeal of Obamacare, and free- ing millions of Americans, patients and local businesses from that pain,” said Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. He called the panel’s discussion “long but fruitful.”
The Energy and Commerce Committee worked through the night and was still at work at 6 a.m. on Thursday.
The committee rejected a Democratic amendment to preserve a part of the health care law that provides low-income people with financial assistance to help cover deductibles, co-payments and other outof-pocket costs for health care. The Republicans’ bill would eliminate those subsidies, starting in 2020.
“They are primarily in red states that you represent,” Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey, the senior Democrat on the committee, told the Republicans. “These are your
constituents. These are work- ing people. They are not eli- gible for Medicaid. They are not getting health insurance
The consideration by the Ways and Means Committee amounted to a procedural step on the way to a full House vote on the health plan.
on the job.”
Republicans countered that the Obama administration had spent billions of dollars on the subsidies even though Congress never appropriated money for the purpose. The Republican bill provides money to states that they can use to make health care more affordable,
they said, and states could, if they wished, use those funds to help people with out-of-pocket costs.
The committee also rejected an amendment to eliminate a provision that would replace Medicaid’s open-ended entitlement with a per-beneficiary allotment of federal money.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., discusses the proposed American Health Care Act at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on Thursday.
President Donald Trump discusses efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act during a meeting with Republican lawmakers at the White House on Tuesday. The Republican bill provides money to states that they can use to make health care more affordable, the bill’s supporters said.