Less than two weeks since the collapse of Republicans’ plan to repeal and replace Obamacare, lawmakers and White House officials have revived talks aimed at crafting a health care bill that can make it through Congress.
But a new pitch from the White House designed to get conservative lawmakers on board, though in its early stages, already has left some conservatives skeptical.
“The goal for the Freedom Caucus has always been we want to see a reduction in [health insurance] prices. That’s still the bottom line,” Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va., told The Daily Signal. “We’re open to any package of ideas that gets us to that goal of lower premiums.”
“We’re still not quite there yet,” he said. “It’s not a heavy lift, and we always say we’re for free markets. Well, now we have to walk the walk here and get some free markets and drive the price down for the kids.”
The potential deal, on which details are beginning to trickle out, attempts to address conservatives’ most significant concern—they won’t support a health care bill that doesn’t result in lower premiums.
Vice President Mike Pence, joined by White House budget director Mick Mulvaney and President Donald Trump’s chief of staff, Reince Priebus, outlined the plan to woo conservatives Monday night during a Freedom Caucus meeting.
The potential agreement would allow states to apply for a waiver from the federal government to exempt them from some of Obamacare’s regulations, including the community rating provision, which prohibits insurers from charging sicker customers more through higher premiums.
The Trump administration is also looking at allowing states to opt out of the “essential health benefits” requirements implemented by Obamacare, a list of 10 services that plans are required to cover, and narrowing use of a $115 billion “stability fund” to be spent on high-risk insurance pools.
The approach again could open Republican lawmakers to the charge that, despite their campaign pledges, this particular bill would not repeal Obamacare in full.
“What we all need to acknowledge is that you either are going to keep the framework of Obamacare in place or say we’re going to not have the framework of Obamacare in place,” Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., told The Daily Signal.
“Right now, people are saying you Republicans promised to repeal Obamacare, and if you’re going to keep the framework in place so that states have to opt out, or if you have to rely on a bureaucrat, [then] Price is our bureaucrat,” Biggs said, referring to Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. He added:
After this administration is over, we don’t know who the next bureaucrat will be. While Tom Price is going to go through and switch off all the light switches as he possibly can on the regulations, there’s no guarantee that the next person if they come from the other party won’t try to come in and put those switches back up. That’s really what people understand, and why I think they’re kind of skeptical about what the proposals are right now in Washington.
The initial pitch from the White House has piqued the interest of Biggs and other members of the Freedom Caucus, who have maintained that they’re open to negotiating. The group of conservative House members are set on unraveling Obamacare regulations that they say increased the price of premiums for Americans.
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., the group’s chairman, told reporters Monday that the White House presented a “solid idea.” However, he said, the Freedom Caucus wants to see legislative text, which was expected by late Tuesday.
Biggs said he so far is “agnostic” about the proposal, but found the White House’s attempts to target Obamacare’s regulations “a little bit alluring.”
“There’s some interesting aspects of what was presented, and I think for me, I want to see the language of the bill and analyze the language of the proposal that we have,” he said.
Still, conservative lawmakers are wary of continued control by the federal government over the insurance market, since state governments would need Washington’s approval to opt out of the regulations.
“In one instance, the one I favor, [it’s totally] within the control of the state government to decide what insurance policy provisions best meet the needs of its citizens,” Rep. Mo Brooks, a Freedom Caucus member from Alabama, told The Daily Signal. “In the other instance, the state has to go hat in hand on bended knee, begging the federal government to allow the state to have influence over the insurance policy provisions that are best for that state’s residents.”
Brooks said the agreement presented Monday night to Freedom Caucus members was not one he would support. He said he wants to see Trump and Republican leaders make “larger strides in the direction of what America needs.”
The House GOP leadership’s negotiations over the original bill they said would begin to repeal and replace Obamacare came to a grinding halt March 24 after House Speaker Paul Ryan attempted to bring the legislation, called the American Health Care Act, to a vote.
Ryan withdrew the bill after opposition from conservatives and centrists indicated the votes weren’t there for it to pass.
After some conciliatory statements from Trump, though, came a flurry of criticism from the president. Trump took to his Twitter account to chastise members of the Freedom Caucus, and vowed instead to work with Democrats to reform the health care system.
Republicans are preparing to head home to their districts for a two-week recess, where they’re sure to face questions from constituents on their failed attempts to repeal and replace Obamacare.
But it’s unlikely the Republican conference will be able to send a health care bill to Trump’s desk before the lawmakers leave for home.
In a press conference Tuesday morning, Ryan told reporters that House Republicans were in the “conceptual stage.”
“It’s important that we don’t just win the votes of one caucus or one group, but that we get the votes and the consensus of 216 of our members,” Ryan, R-Wis., said.
Brat, too, dismissed the notion that the White House’s pitch was a “deal,” but instead said the proposal, alongside other provisions floated by Republican lawmakers, was a “good assembly of ideas.”
“We’re all just waiting to see a combination of policies that bring prices down,” Brat said. “We can all get to yes. We’re just all waiting for various policies and ways of putting it together. You’re managing one-fifth of the economy, so that’s not a small little bill.”