left right U.S. Representative Fred Upton (R-MI) (C) and Representative Michael Burgess (R-TX) (R) return to the West Wing after speaking to reporters about health care legislation after meeting with President Trump at the White House in Washington, U.S. May 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 1/7 left right U.S. Representative Fred Upton (R-MI) (L) and Representative Billy Long (R-MO) (R) speak to reporters about health care legislation after meeting with President Trump at the White House in Washington, U.S. May 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 2/7 left right U.S. Representative Fred Upton (R-MI) turns to give one last comment to reporters about health care legislation after meeting with President Trump at the White House in Washington, U.S. May 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 3/7 left right U.S. Representative Fred Upton (R-MI) speaks to reporters about health care legislation after meeting with President Trump at the White House in Washington, U.S. May 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 4/7 left right U.S. Representative Fred Upton (R-MI) speaks to reporters about health care legislation after meeting with President Trump at the White House in Washington, U.S. May 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 5/7 left right U.S. Representative Greg Walden (R-OR) (2nd R) makes way for Representative Fred Upton (R-MI) (R) to speak to reporters about health care legislation after meeting with President Trump at the White House in Washington, U.S. May 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 6/7 left right U.S. President Donald Trump participates in the U.S. Air Force Academy Commander-in-Chief trophy presentation in the White House Rose Garden in Washington, U.S., May 2, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts 7/7 By Steve Holland and David Morgan | WASHINGTON
WASHINGTON In a possible breakthrough for U.S. Republicans' chaotic effort to roll back Obamacare, three moderate lawmakers emerged from a White House meeting with President Donald Trump on Wednesday and said a revised bill might pass. But pitfalls still lay ahead.
Keen to score his first major legislative win since taking office in January, Trump has been personally engaged this week in trying to cement support among fellow Republicans in the House of Representatives for an effort that has twice before collapsed in confusion.
The bill has been changed several times as Republican leaders try to balance demands by conservatives seeking a maximum rollback of the Affordable Care Act with the concerns of moderates worried about angering voters who value parts of it.
The moderates, speaking to reporters outside the White House, said Trump has endorsed their plan to add $8 billion over five years to help cover the cost for people with pre-existing illnesses who could otherwise be priced out of insurance markets.
Representative Fred Upton said it now seemed likely the bill would pass the House, although a moderate colleague, Representative Billy Long, said Republicans still seemed short of the votes needed.
"There's still work to be done on the votes," he said.
Aides said Trump has been working the phones furiously in an effort to drum up support and score a victory on one of his key priorities, which is to overhaul Democratic former President Barack Obama's signature domestic legislation. The effort to push through a healthcare bill is showing Trump the challenge of placating various Republican factions.
An initial attempt foundered in the House and was withdrawn by Republican leaders in March, a defeat that cast a shadow over Trump's first 100 days in office. Republicans renewed negotiations last month at the White House’s urging, but failed to round up enough support for a vote before a two-week recess in April. Republicans are now hoping to get something passed before they leave for another recess on Thursday evening.
Health insurers such as Anthem Inc (ANTM.N), UnitedHealth Group(UNH.N), Aetna Inc (AET.N) and Cigna Corp (CI.N) have faced months of uncertainty over the future of the country's healthcare system.
Millions more Americans got healthcare coverage under Obamacare, which was passed in 2010, but Republicans have long sought to overturn it, seeing it as government overreach and complaining it drives up costs.
House Democrats rejected the latest proposed change to the Republican legislation on Wednesday, saying it appears to protect patients with pre-existing conditions, but some could still be pushed off their insurance in certain states and face higher costs.
"This is deadly," House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi told a news conference. "No band-aid will fix it."
RYAN: CHANGES UNCONTROVERSIAL
U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan said Upton's proposed changes were uncontroversial and were unlikely to alienate more hard-line conservatives, who had blocked an earlier rollback effort.
"There is not a problem," Ryan said in an interview on the Hugh Hewitt radio show, adding that Mark Meadows, chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, was aware of the effort.
Asked when the House would vote on a final version of a bill, Ryan said: "We're getting extremely close."
Long said he had opposed the legislation until the pre-existing conditions were covered and he had resisted Trump's arm-twisting. Long said he now supported it.
"The president said, 'Billy we really need you, man,'" he added.
Even if the bill passes the House, it faces an uphill battle in the Senate. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated an earlier version of the bill would leave 24 million more people without insurance in 2026.
Called the American Health Care Act, the Republican bill repeals most Obamacare taxes, including a penalty for not buying health insurance. It slashes funding for Medicaid, the program to provide insurance for the poor, and rolls back much of its expansion, while swapping Obamacare’s income-based tax credits for flat age-based credits.
An amendment recently added to win over the Freedom Caucus lets states opt out of Obamacare’s mandate that insurers charge sick and healthy people the same rates. But Wednesday's amendment from Upton aimed to assauge moderates' concerns about that by providing a way for people with pre-existing conditions to get financial help to afford insurance. Others said the $8 billion over five years was not enough.
Drawing more public attention to the debate in Washington, late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel tearfully revealed on Monday evening that his newborn son had a congenital heart condition, saying it brought home to him the importance of health coverage for people with such pre-existing illnesses.
As of Wednesday morning, Kimmel's monologue had been viewed nearly 17 million times on his show's Facebook page and was the No. 1 trending story on YouTube, viewed more than 9.2 million times. It was shared nearly 258,000 times on his personal page.
(Reporting by David Morgan, Richard Cowan, Susan Heavey, Doina Chiacu, Jeff Mason and Yasmeen Abutaleb; Writing by Steve Holland and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Frances Kerry)