By David Morgan and Yasmeen Abutaleb
WASHINGTON The U.S. House of Representatives neared a cliffhanger vote on repealing Obamacare on Thursday, with Republicans predicting victory on overturning the healthcare law even though their seven-year drive could founder in the U.S. Senate.A House vote to repeal former President Barack Obama's signature domestic achievement, which enabled 20 million more Americans to get health insurance, would be President Donald Trump's biggest legislative win since he took office in January.However, it is by no means a sure thing either in the House, where one Republican predicted a margin of only two votes in favor, or in the Senate, where the Republican majority is narrow and where lawmakers said the bill would face much greater scrutiny and skepticism.The House cleared a procedural hurdle paving the way to a vote that was expected during the afternoon.Despite controlling the White House and Congress, Republicans have found that overturning Obamacare - which they have long criticized as government overreach - is politically fraught, in part because of voter fears that many people will lose their health insurance as a result.Passed in 2010, Obama's Affordable Care Act expanded Medicaid, the government insurance program for the poor, provided income-based tax credits to help the poor buy insurance on individual insurance markets set up by the law, and required everyone to buy insurance or pay a penalty. Republicans have blamed it for driving up healthcare costs.The Republican bill, called the American Health Care Act, would repeal most Obamacare taxes, which paid for the law, roll back the Medicaid expansion and slash the program’s funding, repeal the penalty for not purchasing insurance and replace the law’s tax credits with flat age-based credits."This is a step away from more government control of our healthcare and our day-to-day lives, and a return to freedom for all Americans," said Republican Representative Luke Messer.An unusually emotional debate erupted on the House floor Thursday morning as Democrats blasted the bill, saying it would make insurance unaffordable for those who need it most and would leave millions more uninsured.
"We don’t even know how much this bill will cost America," Democratic Representative Joseph Crowley said during a debate on the House floor.In a push to pass the bill before representatives leave on Friday for a week in their home districts, the House will vote before the bill can be assessed by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which estimates its cost and effect on insurance rolls.Republicans have said that the bill will be scored by the CBO and other fixes will be made before the Senate votes.In a sign of the scrutiny it will face there, Republican Senator Bob Corker told MSNBC there was no way the healthcare bill would receive a quick up-or-down vote in the Senate and predicted senators would spend "at least a month" studying it.Trump made overturning Obamacare a cornerstone of his 2016 campaign and has been frustrated as two efforts to push a Republican bill through the House failed in the last two months, a reflection of the difficulty of reconciling various Republican Party factions.
Representative Chris Collins predicted the bill would pass by just two votes. If the bill passed by just one vote, Collins suggested individual Republicans could come under attack in next year's midterm election from voters labeling them as the reason for its becoming law.Wavering moderate Republicans had worried that the legislation would undo a popular aspect of Obamacare and leave too many people with pre-existing medical conditions unable to afford health coverage.But the skeptical Republican lawmakers got behind the bill after meeting with Trump to float a compromise proposal, which would 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.Members of the Freedom Caucus, a faction of conservative House lawmakers who played a key role in derailing the original Republican version last month, said they could go along with the compromise.
Healthcare consultancy and research firm Avalere Health said in an analysis released on Thursday that the Republican bill would only cover 5 percent of enrollees with pre-existing conditions in the individual markets.Nearly every major medical group, including the American Medical Association, American Hospital Association and the AARP, was strongly opposed to the Republican bill and said last-minute amendments further eroded protection for the most vulnerable groups, including the sick and elderly. 'COWARDLY CHOICE'?
House Democrats rejected the latest change to the Republican legislation, saying it did not go far enough toward protecting people with pre-existing conditions. Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in the House, criticized moderate Republicans who decided to support the bill with the expectation it will be changed by the Senate."That is really a poor choice, a cowardly choice," she said. "Why would they vote for it if they don’t think it is worthy of support because the Senate might change it?"Democrats have long thought their best chance of stopping the repeal of Obamacare would be in the Senate. Republicans hold a narrow 52-seat majority in the 100-seat chamber and so only few Republican dissidents would be needed to stop the law from moving forward.Health insurers, such as Anthem Inc, UnitedHealth Group Inc, Aetna Inc and Cigna Corp, have faced months of uncertainty over healthcare's future. So have hospital companies, such as HCA Holdings Inc and Tenet Healthcare Corp. (Additional reporting by David Morgan, Steve Holland, Roberta Rampton, Eric Beech and Susan Heavey; Writing by Ginger Gibson and Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Frances Kerry)
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Updated Date: May 04, 2017 23:15 PM