WASHINGTON (AP)—The White House and Republican leaders in Congress scrambled on Tuesday to shore up support for their health-care bill as critics went on the attack over new estimates that 14 million people would lose insurance coverage in the first year alone.
The Congressional Budget Office’s findings handed fresh ammunition to Democratic opponents of the GOP’s drive to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, former President Barack Obama’s signature health-care law. The new figures, which estimated that 24 million people would lose insurance over a decade, also appeared to strengthen pockets of conservative resistance to the bill and rattle nerves among rank-and-file Republicans.
With Washington blanketed in a rare March snow, congressional GOP leaders and top aides to President Donald Trump got to work trying to salvage the legislation, which they hope to push through the House next week and through the Senate week after next.
Trump has promised to sign the bill and fulfill seven years of GOP promises to undo “Obamacare,” even though the legislation breaks the president’s own past promises to safeguard Medicaid and provide health insurance for all.
“We think we’ve created a system that saves money and allows more people to get affordable health care,” Mick Mulvaney, the White House budget director, said Tuesday morning on MSNBC.
Mulvaney disputed the CBO findings about how many people would lose coverage, while highlighting the agency’s conclusions that the GOP bill would reduce the deficit by $337 billion over a decade and lower insurance premiums by around 10 percent starting in 2020. The premiums reduction would come only after a sharp increase in 2018 and 2019.
The GOP legislation would use tax credits to help consumers buy health coverage, expand health savings accounts, phase out an expansion of Medicaid and cap that program for the future. It would also end some requirements for health plans under Obama’s law, and scrap a number of taxes.
Republicans say they are not trying to achieve the widespread coverage that Democrats aimed for in the ACA by imposing penalties for people who weren’t covered. Republicans, who have been stressing access to affordable coverage for people who want it, would eliminate that mandate.
“You sit there and talk about coverage, but coverage is not the end. People don’t get better with coverage,” Mulvaney said.
Angry Democrats, united against the GOP bill, have criticized such claims.
“Trumpcare would be a nightmare for the American people,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.
House Conservatives have also criticized the legislation and have threatened to foil GOP leaders’ plans of swift passage of the bill before Easter, when Congress is scheduled to go on a two-week recess that could expose lawmakers to town hall fury.
Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Jordan, a member of the Freedom Caucus and one of the most outspoken critics of the bill, reiterated Tuesday that he and other conservatives have been working with the White House on changes to the Republican health plan.
They have dubbed the bill “Obamacare Lite,” saying it doesn’t fully repeal the Affordable Care Act and installs a new but similar system of tax credits that they deride as a new entitlement.
“This bill doesn’t unite Republicans. This bill doesn’t bring down the cost of premiums,” Jordan told Fox News’ “Fox and Friends.” ”I don’t think it’s going to accomplish what we told the voters we were going to do.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan has predicted the bill will have the support it needs to pass the House next week, but Mulvaney suggested more work is needed to get to the necessary 216 votes. He said negotiations are still going on as conservative lawmakers push changes to the bill.
“I don’t think we’re in a position to start counting votes until we know what that bill looks like,” Mulvaney said.
Senators, who are just beginning to absorb the CBO findings, were to meet at the Capitol on Tuesday with Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.
“It’s awful. It has to be a concern,” Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana said of the Budget Office findings. “President Trump said he wanted as many people covered as under Obamacare.”
“At the end of the day, we should pause and try to improve the product in light of the CBO analysis,rather than just rejecting it,” said Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.