Price prods GOP to 'collaborate' on health care overhaul

Friday, March 17, 2017, Vol. 41, No. 11

WASHINGTON (AP) — Health secretary Tom Price prodded divided Republicans on Friday to "get together and collaborate" on a health care overhaul as GOP leaders hoped to push the legislation through the House next week.

Even as Price spoke to reporters before a morning meeting with House Republicans, it remained unclear if or when top Republicans could resolve the party's internal wrangling over the high-profile measure.

The leader of the hard-line conservative House Freedom Caucus — whose members want to curb Medicaid, reduce a new tax credit and eliminate requirements on insurers — said there's been little give from House leaders.

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., said the only change leaders might be willing to make was imposing an optional work requirement on some recipients of Medicaid, which helps finance health coverage for the poor. He said he believes they have not agreed to quickly phase out an expansion of Medicaid, another conservative demand.

"They won't have the votes unless they change it" further, Meadows said. He said that optional work requirement "doesn't move the ball more than a couple yards on a very long playing field."

Conservatives and moderate House Republicans want to shove the bill in opposing directions, GOP senators are rebelling and Republican governors say the House bill gives them almost no new flexibility and lacks sufficient resources to protect the vulnerable.

The House bill would repeal major elements of former President Barack Obama's 2010 law. It would create new, leaner tax credits for health insurance, cap federal spending on Medicaid for low-income people and reverse tax increases on wealthy Americans used to finance Obama's statute.

In what seemed like conflicting signals, Price said Friday that President Donald Trump "is very supportive" of the legislation, even though Trump himself has recently called the existing bill "very preliminary."

Price told reporters that he wants lawmakers "to get together and collaborate and come forward with a work product that will respond to the needs of the American people." He would not say what changes the administration was working on.

One House GOP leader, Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, said leaders were on track to bring the legislation to the House Rules Committee early next week. That panel's meeting — usually a prelude to bringing legislation to the House floor — is expected to produce amendments aimed at securing votes.

Hoping to secure support, Trump was meeting with a group of House conservatives at the Oval Office.

Although the House bill has cleared three committees, some lawmakers can visualize scenarios where things come apart. Rep. Bill Flores, R-Texas, said it's important to get the legislation passed before Congress leaves for a two-week spring recess next month.

"That's never healthy to let something sit out there too long because pretty soon you have a carcass left," he said.

Critics say it would make health insurance more expensive for individuals, especially older adults and those with modest incomes. An analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found 24 million people would lose their health insurance over a decade though the bill would also reduce the deficit.

In the Senate, Susan Collins, R-Maine, told the Portland Press Herald, "This is not a bill I could support in its current form." She joins Kentucky's Rand Paul and Utah's Mike Lee in opposing the legislation, while other Republicans, including Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Ted Cruz of Texas, have expressed deep misgivings. Collins' opposition leaves the bill short of the support it needs in the Senate unless it changes, since GOP leaders can only lose two votes.

In another warning signal, four GOP governors wrote congressional leaders Thursday saying the bill's approach to Medicaid would not work for states. Medicaid covers more than 70 million people, and its future is expected to be a central issue in the Senate.

"It provides almost no new flexibility for states, does not ensure the resources necessary to make sure no one is left out, and shifts significant new costs to states," wrote Govs. John Kasich of Ohio, Rick Snyder of Michigan, Brian Sandoval of Nevada, and Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas.

Failing to pass a bill while his party controls both the House and Senate would be a devastating blow to his party and the premise of his presidency — that he was a dealmaker the country needed.


Associated Press writers Ken Thomas and Erica Werner contributed.