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Moderates Balk at Revised Health Bill  04/27 06:16

   The moribund Republican health care bill received a jolt of life 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.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- The moribund Republican health care bill received a jolt 
of life 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 Wednesday 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.

   In a statement, the Freedom Caucus said while the new package "still does 
not fully repeal Obamacare, we are prepared to support it to keep our promise 
to the American people to lower health care costs."

   Many moderates opposed the initial Republican bill before the latest 
proposed changes, and there were no signs that the revisions converted any of 
them into supporters. The legislation does things they oppose, including 
cutting the Medicaid health insurance program for the poor and providing less 
generous federal subsidies to help people buy coverage than under Obama's law.

   The changes were authored by Reps. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., chairman of the 
Freedom Caucus and Tom MacArthur, R-N.J., one leader of the moderate House 
Tuesday Group, along with White House help.

   But Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., another and longer-tenured leader of that 
50-member centrist organization, told reporters that those in his group who 
were against the bill "remain opposed." He also lashed out at conservatives for 
advancing the revisions.

   "This is simply a matter of blame-shifting and face-saving" for a bill going 
nowhere, Dent said. He said that if the House measure survives, revised or not, 
it would be substantially rewritten in the Senate, where it faces broad 
opposition.

   There was a clear upsurge in conservative support for the bill, with even 
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, a vocal foe of the House measure, calling the changes 
"a significant improvement." Influential conservative Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, 
was also now backing it, as was Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala.

   But Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., remained a "no." Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., said 
he was undecided and said that Meadows had told Freedom Caucus members to "vote 
your conscience."

   Other Republicans said the House should send the measure to the Senate to 
keep the effort alive.

   "They certainly haven't been particularly helpful in the process and a 
number of them have been busy rolling hand grenades across the Rotunda for 
about three months," said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla. "I'd like to see them wrestle 
with this for a while."

   In an added boost for the revised bill, a constellation of conservative 
groups announced support including Club for Growth, Heritage Action and 
Americans for Prosperity, which is backed by the wealthy Koch brothers.

   Opponents included AARP representing older people, the Catholic Health 
Association of the United States and the American Academy of Family Physicians.

   In one point of contention, the proposed changes would exempt members and 
staffers of Congress if their states obtain waivers to Obama's coverage 
mandates. After the language was criticized, MacArthur's office issued a 
statement saying he opposed "special treatment" for Congress and would work on 
separate legislation to change it.


(KA)

 
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