Another 'no' spells more trouble for revised GOP Obamacare replacement bill

WASHINGTON — In a sign of trouble for the GOP’s efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare, a Missouri Republican lawmaker and staunch Trump supporter said Monday he would oppose a newly revised health care proposal because it weakens protections for those with pre-existing conditions.

Rep. Billy Long, R-Mo., sits on the powerful House committee that wrote the first GOP repeal-and-replace bill, which sank in March amid opposition from hard-line conservatives and some moderates. Those two factions have since banded together to draft a new bill — but it does not seem to be faring much better.

"I’ve always stated that one of the few good things about Obamacare was pre-existing conditions," Long said. The new bill "strips away any guarantee that people with pre-existing conditions could be covered at an affordable rate."

Long said that is "unacceptable," and he’s not the only one balking at the tweaked legislation. A clutch of other House Republicans have said they are either opposed or undecided on the measure.

“I’m trying to figure out how this makes the legislation better and I will tell you, at this stage, I’m having a hard time finding how it makes it better,” Rep. Mario Diaz Balart, R-Fla., told reporters last week.

Even before Long's announcement on Monday, House Republican leaders and President Trump were scrounging for enough votes to push the measure through the House as early as this week. Republicans can only lose about 22 GOP votes in the House and still get the bill passed. By at least one count, Long was the 22nd GOP lawmaker to announce his opposition — possibly dooming the bill and jeopardizing the Republicans’ efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Mounting opposition to the new bill comes as GOP leaders are still trying to recover from their embarrassing setback in March, when they yanked the first version of their “repeal and replace” legislation from the House floor after it became clear it would go down in defeat. Conservatives said that initial proposal did not go far enough to repeal Obamacare, while moderates said it did not preserve enough protections for consumers.

Long said it struck a good balance, and he was prepared to vote “yes” on the proposal. Anyone who voted “no” on that initial Republican bill would be supporting the status quo, he told the Springfield News-Leader in March.

“If you vote no, you’re voting yes for Obamacare,” the congressman said then.

In the wake of that early defeat, conservatives and moderates have negotiated the revised proposal, which would allow states to opt out of key elements of the Affordable Care Act. States could seek a waiver, for example, allowing insurers to deny coverage for maternity care, substance abuse and emergency room visits.

And while the new proposal still requires insurance companies to offer coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, it would kill a prohibition on charging those consumers significantly more for coverage. Critics say that would essentially gut the protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

Top White House officials and Republican leaders in Congress have expressed optimism that they can get the new health care bill passed this week. But the opposition from Long and others suggests that may not happen.

Long said since the provision on pre-existing conditions was added to the bill, the calls into his office "have flipped quite a bit" from mostly supportive before to increasingly opposed now. His congressional district is solidly Republican and that region of Missouri voted overwhelmingly for Trump.

Long expressed frustration that the bill was negotiated without input from him and other rank-and-file lawmakers.

"We weren't involved in this amendment making process … and now they want us to eat it, and I’m not wanting to eat it," Long said.

Asked what should happen if the GOP cannot get this new version passed, Long said the president should step in more assertively.

"I think he’s relied on people in the House that have overpromised and underdelivered," Long said. "He needs to start leading."

Contributing: Eliza Collins 

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