Before heading home to their districts for a two-week recess, Republican leaders and conservatives are proposing changes to the GOP’s health care bill they say will bring lawmakers closer to dismantling Obamacare.
Reps. Gary Palmer, R-Ala., and David Schweikert, R-Ariz., members of the House Freedom Caucus, introduced an amendment to the American Health Care Act on Thursday intended to lower premiums and protect sick patients—criteria that bring together the goals of centrist and conservative Republicans.
“The whole point of what we’re trying to do here is to keep our promise to the American people,” Palmer told reporters Thursday. “We want to do something that brings down premiums, that makes sure we take care of people with pre-existing conditions, and I believe we do this.”
Palmer and Schweikert joined House Speaker Paul Ryan and roughly 20 other Republicans at the speaker’s weekly press conference, where they announced the measure.
The House Rules Committee then gathered this afternoon to consider the amendment and add it to the health care bill.
The move from Republican leaders was part of a last-minute push from the White House for GOP lawmakers to make progress on their yearslong promise to repeal and replace Obamacare.
According to reports, Vice President Mike Pence, budget director Mick Mulvaney, chief of staff Reince Priebus, and chief strategist Steve Bannon met with Ryan and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy in the West Wing on Wednesday night.
White House officials urged the Republican leaders to make some headway on the health care bill before heading home for the two-week recess Thursday.
That progress came in the form of the Palmer-Schweikert amendment, which allocates $15 billion from 2018 to 2026 for a “Federal Invisible Risk Sharing Program” and mirrors a similar program in Maine.
The amendment calls for the Department of Health and Human Services to establish the program and define its parameters, including which individuals would qualify, with the assistance of key stakeholders.
Under the risk-sharing program, insurers who enroll sicker customers, who are often more costly, would be reimbursed for covering those patients’ claims. However, the Department of Health and Human Services and its secretary, Tom Price, are responsible for determining how much insurers would be reimbursed for.
Some patients, depending on their health conditions, would automatically qualify for the risk-sharing program, but the amendment also allows insurance companies to “voluntarily qualify” customers.
According to a study on the invisible risk-sharing program conducted by Milliman for The Foundation for Government Accountability, a free-market think tank, the program and a change in age bands from 3-to-1 to 5-to-1, which the GOP’s bill calls for, would decrease premiums an average of 31 percent.
President Donald Trump and his top officials spent the week discussing the future of the GOP’s health care bill and attempting to find consensus between the House’s conservative and centrist wings, which both opposed the American Health Care Act for different reasons.
The amendment from Palmer and Schweikert was the culmination of this week’s discussions, and Ryan told reporters during a press conference Thursday the measure had the backing of both factions of the Republican conference.
“This brings us closer to the final agreement that we all want to achieve,” Ryan said. “It’s been embraced by a broad spectrum of our conference, people representing all corners of our conference.”
Though the amendment boasts broad support, it, alone, won’t lead to the bill’s passage.
“We still have more work to do, but the Palmer-Schweikert amendment, by allocating funds to a risk-sharing program, will lower premiums for the American people,” McCarthy, the House’s No. 2 Republican, told reporters.
“This is an improvement on our bill that will help the American people bring us closer to our ultimate goal to repeal Obamacare and replace it with something much, much better,” he continued.
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., chairman of the Freedom Caucus, said most, if not all, of the group’s members would support the health care bill if it included not only the Palmer-Schweikert amendment, but also the contents of a proposal laid out by the White House earlier this week.
On Monday, Pence and administration officials pitched an idea to the Freedom Caucus to allow states to apply for a federal waiver to opt out of some Obamacare regulations, including the essential health benefits requirements, community ratings, and guaranteed issue.
“If those offers that were made over the last couple of days actually appeared in the legislation, the majority, if not all of the Freedom Caucus, will vote for the bill,” Meadows said.
The North Carolina Republican and fellow Freedom Caucus members objected to the original text of the House GOP’s bill because the proposal wouldn’t lower premiums, they said.
The group, which boasts more than 30 members, called on Republican leaders to put forth changes to the plan that rolled back Obamacare’s regulations. Freedom Caucus members said it was those regulations that led to an increase in health insurance premiums over the last few years.
In addition to conservative lawmakers, centrist Republicans also denounced the health care bill for failing to protect the population of consumers newly insured under the Medicaid expansion.
When it became apparent the legislation lacked the support needed for it to pass, Ryan pulled the bill from the floor just hours before the House was supposed to vote.