House Republicans: Health care bill not perfect, but better than Obamacare

Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., spoke to KATV from Capitol Hill on March 15, 2017. (SBG)

Despite lingering concerns within their party about its impact, several House Republicans said Wednesday that they believe the American Health Care Act (AHCA) will pass and they intend to support it.

“I’m a ‘lean yes’ on the bill as it currently stands,” said Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark. “It’s not ideal. There are some flaws in the legislation but I’m a big believer that when we united the government in the last election, then it was placed on us that we need to govern.”

The AHCA is the first step in a three-phase Republican effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare. Conservative and moderate Republicans have raised questions about the bill, but House leadership and the White House are firmly behind it.

One issue Womack hopes can be addressed during the legislative process is that the current bill gives much bigger financial benefits to top earners than to low-income seniors.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projected that 24 million fewer people will have health insurance if the bill is implemented, but Womack suggested that much of that will be by choice because of the elimination of the ACA’s mandate to purchase insurance.

“Nobody is going to be subject to those mandates anymore if this thing passes, and naturally, I don’t know how the CBO quantifies this, but there are going to be a number of people that don’t buy health insurance,” he said.

Womack noted that the CBO estimate also concluded the bill could reduce the deficit and slow the rising costs of insurance premiums.

“It is a bill that we can start with that accomplishes a number of things that we said we needed to do in a health care reform,” he said.

One of the most important things to do, according to Rep. Paul Mitchell, R-Mich., is giving Americans more options instead of forcing them to comply with a government mandate.

“The choice for health care and to choose the type of health care is a right, like we have a right to choose a whole series of things in our lives,” he said.

Mitchell criticized some opponents of the bill for trying to scare the public about what it will do to their insurance coverage.

“We’re responsible as elected officials not to instill fear,” he said. “It’s to answer questions, not use fear for political gain or to raise money.”

He urged people to have patience with Republican-led reforms, observing that the ACA took over a year to pass and several years to implement.

Critics have questioned whether the bill’s tax credits provide sufficient funding to replace the ACA’s subsidies and whether it will force poor patients off of Medicaid. Mitchell was confident those who want care would have access to it, though.

“I don’t believe we’re going to have anybody who’s left without a choice for health care,” he said.

Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., also emphasized that some who become uninsured will do so by choice.

“Many American people are going to opt out of a very expensive plan,” he said.

McHenry said Republicans are working to ensure that the tax credits are as fair as possible and that states are given flexibility to reform and improve Medicaid to serve their citizens.

“I think we’ll have some small changes to the legislation going into next week,” he said.

Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., dismissed the notion that the AHCA gives patients more freedom and choices.

“They’ve got a lot of choices,” he said. “They can go bankrupt or become homeless to pay for their health insurance. They can go uninsured and then go bankrupt when they have a health crisis.”

DeFazio has pushed for changes to the Affordable Care Act since it was first passed, but he said Republicans have had no interest in trying to fix it. Instead, they are now promoting a bill that would provide massive tax breaks for the rich and health insurance companies while potentially raising costs for older Americans.

“They’re much more interested in tax cuts than they are in providing meaningful health insurance coverage to all Americans,” he said.

He also questioned GOP leadership's sudden rejection of CBO projections after citing the office’s reports to attack Obama for years.

“One heck of a lot of people are going to lose their health insurance under this plan,” he said.

Whatever their qualms with the specifics of the AHCA, Republican lawmakers agreed that it is better than the alternative because they believe Obamacare is an irredeemable disaster.

“Theoretically we could sit back and say we’ll wait and see what happens and let it implode on its own weight,” Mitchell said. “That’s irresponsible. So I think the effort we’re making really is a rescue mission.”

Womack also portrayed the Republican effort as saving Americans from a failed system.

“This train wreck is going to happen anyway,” he said. “We’re trying to minimize the damage of an Obamacare train wreck by coming back and doing something that we think is much more workable.”

Republicans hope to bring the AHCA to the House floor next week. If passed, it would then go on to the Senate, where it faces even more skeptical GOP senators and just three “no” votes from within the party could sink it.

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