House Leaders Pull Health Bill, Likely Ending Obamacare Repeal Effort

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By Alex Ruoff

House Republicans have largely abandoned their plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act after failing to garner enough support among their own ranks for a bill to overhaul the health law.

After consulting with President Donald Trump, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) March 24 removed the repeal bill he endorsed from consideration. He told reporters the House wouldn’t again consider the legislation, titled the American Health Care Act, after weeks of trying to build support for it among Republicans.

Republican lawmakers will largely leave the ACA alone in coming months, Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, told reporters March 24. He said there wasn’t enough support for it, particularly among hard-line conservatives.

Those who designed the legislation said they were disappointed with the decision not to act on it and blamed conservative lawmakers who refused to back the bill.

“We tried. We tried our hardest,” Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas), head of the Energy and Commerce health subcommittee, told reporters. “There were people who were not interested in solving the problem. They win today.”

Support for the legislation among House Republicans eroded over the week, as hard-line conservatives demanded changes and moderates warned the bill could leave millions of Americans uninsured. Some of those who opposed the legislation told reporters they expect this failure will force House leaders to reconsider a more conservative approach to repealing the ACA.

Democrats said they were cautiously optimistic that the ACA, President Barack Obama’s signature legislative achievement, will remain law at least for the time being. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she hopes the failure of the AHCA will make Republicans more willing to fix the health law rather than bring it down.

Next Steps in Health Policy

The House Energy and Commerce Committee, tasked with overseeing many aspects of the ACA, including its Medicaid expansion provisions and insurance regulations, won’t write another ACA repeal in the near future, Burgess said.

Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.), a member of the GOP Doctors’ Caucus and the Energy and Commerce Committee, told reporters the panel wouldn’t revisit the ACA until after the summer. The committee will continue trying to reform Medicaid and will lean on the Trump administration to grant states more flexibility to experiment with their public health insurance programs for the poor.

Burgess said the committee will continue with its health agenda otherwise, authorizing the user fees that drug and medical device companies pay to the FDA for reviewing their products. All of the Food and Drug Administration’s user fee programs expire Sept. 30 and Congress is preparing to consider legislation to reauthorize the programs for fiscal years 2018 through 2022.

President Trump challenged Democrats to work with Republicans on a future health bill. However, Democrats said they won’t help Republicans dismantle the ACA and its consumer protections.

Liberals in the House are concerned Republicans will now repeal major parts of the ACA, including its prohibition on insurers raising insurance premiums for people with health conditions, Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said.

Push for Better

Many of the members of the House Freedom Caucus, a coalition of hard-line conservatives who delayed passage of the bill seeking further changes to the ACA, said they expect the defeat of the repeal bill to result in a “true repeal” of the health law.

Members of the group wanted to repeal aspects of Title 1 of the ACA, which includes the individual mandate, rules for the kind of coverage insurers must include in plans and community rating regulations.

Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) told reporters that repeal efforts will “have to start over looking for a real repeal.”

Republicans need to “get back to the drawing board and bring forward a bolder effort to replace the failing Obamacare with a plan to reduce costs by increasing choice and competition,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said in a statement.

However, Republican moderates have made clear they won’t support such dramatic changes to the health insurance industry. Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), head of the moderate Tuesday Group, told reporters market reforms must be “do-able and sustainable.”

“There are parts [of the ACA] that need to be repealed, parts that need to be replaced. This needs to be reformed, repaired and overhauled, and some parts will be retained—we all know that,” he said.

—With assistance from Colleen Murphy

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Ruoff in Washington at aruoff@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Kendra Casey Plank kcasey@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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