Keep Trump's Promise, Pence Tells Republicans on Health Bill

  • In Florida, VP doesn’t mention CBO report on lost coverage
  • Lawmakers from retiree-haven Florida have criticized bill

Vice President Mike Pence called on Congress to “keep the president’s promise” during an event in Florida to shore up support for a contentious health-care bill, but didn’t address the finding that has moderate Republicans most worried: that 14 million Americans may lose health coverage in a year.

“We’re going to continue to work with members of Congress to improve this bill,” Pence said in Jacksonville after meeting with small business owners. He noted a plan that would allow states to include a work requirement for able-bodied adults to receive Medicaid.

The visit to the Mac Papers Envelope Converters facility comes as President Donald Trump and his team try to repel opposition from both sides of the Republican Party to the measure to end Obamacare, which could come to the House floor for a vote as soon as March 23. Pence heard complaints from some business owners about the cost of complying with Obamacare, and promised their “nightmare” would end.

Trump met Friday with leaders of the Republican Study Committee, and committed to tweaking the American Health Care Act to appeal to unhappy conservatives. The president said the changes -- including an amendment that would give states options to further limit enrollment in Medicaid -- had brought several opponents on board. “I want everyone to know that I’m 100 percent behind this,” Trump after the meeting. “Obamacare is dead.”

Four Governors Opposed

Pence held a similar event in Kentucky a week ago. Concerns about the House bill have only risen since then; Trump and Pence face a growing number of moderate Republicans, particularly in the Senate, who say that the bill would force millions to lose insurance coverage. Four Republican governors came out against the plan on Friday.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said in a March 13 report that the AHCA would increase the number of Americans without insurance by 14 million in 2018 and 24 million in 2026. That assessment, which found older Americans would face higher insurance costs to the point where some would forgo coverage, was cited by Florida lawmakers who represent a disproportionate number of elderly voters.

Pence didn’t refer to the agency’s report during his remarks, which were broadly unchanged from a week earlier.

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Florida has more than 1.5 million people enrolled in the federal insurance marketplace, more than any other state, according to federal data. Many of the Sunshine State’s retirees and other residents not old enough to qualify for Medicare rely on Obamacare.

Republican Governor Rick Scott chose not to expand the state’s Medicaid health insurance for the poor under Obamacare, and has called for federal money for the program to be given to the states in block grants. Pence on Saturday suggested the block-grant proposal may be adopted, as well as the potential for states to add a work requirement for recipients of Medicaid.

A number of moderate Republican lawmakers from Florida questioned support for the bill after the CBO analysis was published.

Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, whose district includes much of Miami, said she couldn’t support the bill because it would reduce coverage for the poor and the elderly.

“I have decided to vote no on the bill as currently written,’’ Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement on March 14. “The bill’s consequences for South Florida are clear: too many of my constituents will lose insurance and there will be less funds to help the poor and elderly with their health care.’’

‘Serious Concerns’

Representatives Carlos Curbelo and Mario Diaz-Balart, other South Florida Republicans, also said the CBO report raised “serious concerns,” according to the Miami Herald.

“We need every Republican in Florida to support this plan,” Pence said in Jacksonville.

The bill would need 216 supporters to pass if all 430 currently sitting House members showed up for the vote. With the 193 Democrats expected to vote as a bloc against repealing Obamacare, Ryan can lose no more than 21 Republicans. Current vote-counting suggests more than 21 members from the right and left factions of the Republican majority have said they’ll vote against the bill, or remain undecided.

And if the measure passes the House, it faces additional challenges in the Senate, where Republicans hold a slim 52-48 majority. At least eight Republican Senators have publicly opposed the bill. Senator Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, said a vote for the bill by Republicans would risk losing the House majority in the 2018 midterm election.

Club for Growth

The AHCA would end Obamacare’s requirement that individuals must have, and employers above a certain size must offer, health coverage. It would also eliminate several taxes on the wealthy, insurers and drugmakers used to fund Obamacare. The proposal includes a refundable, age-based tax credit to help people buy insurance and a rollback of an expansion of Medicaid over a period of years.

Pence and Trump have met in recent days with conservative groups, attempting to gin up support for the new administration’s first major legislative effort.

Pence is expected to speak mainly about health care in an appearance later Saturday at the Club for Growth’s winter economic conference in Palm Beach. The conservative group, which advocates cutting taxes and reforming safety-net programs including Social Security, came out against the bill shortly after it was introduced.

Trump is also spending the weekend in Palm Beach, at his oceanside Mar-a-Lago resort. He will return to Washington on Sunday.

— With assistance by Billy House, and Anna Edney

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