Bill that would end Obamacare narrowly approved by House

Staff and wire report

Robert Pittenger

WASHINGTON — Republicans pushed their replacement health-care bill through the House Thursday to stiff opposition, but garnered applause and a “Aye” vote from the congressman who represents all of Robeson County.

Rep. Robert Pittenger voted in favor of the American Health Care Act and co-sponsored a bill that would end lawmakers’ exemption from policy changes.

The act Republicans hope will replace the Affordable Healthcare Act skirted through the House by a 217-213 vote, as all voting Democrats and a group of mostly moderate Republican holdouts voted no.

“… Big government programs just don’t work. They aren’t American,” said Pittenger. “Ninety-five out of 100 North Carolina counties have just one choice for insurance under Obamacare. Next year in Iowa, thousands of families could have no choice as the last insurer is close to pulling out.”

Passage was a product of heavy lobbying by the White House and Republicans leaders, and late revisions that nailed down the final supporters needed. The bill now faces an uncertain fate in the Senate, where even GOP lawmakers say major changes are likely.

The House approved legislation, co-sponsored and introduced by Pittenger, to block the so-called “Congressional health-care exemption.”

The resolution eliminated the waiver provisions to members of Congress and congressional staff, striking a provision in the American Health Care Act that gave Congress an exemption from certain elements of healthcare reform.

“We were elected to serve, not be served,” Pittenger said. “Even though this exemption is just a technicality based on Senate rules, I felt it important to act quickly to make sure the exemption is struck before the law even takes effect. Members of Congress should be subject to the same laws as the American people.”

The act, HR 2192, passed with a 429-0 vote.

“The American Health Care Act restores your right to choose the health plan best for your family. We include sustainable protections for pre-existing conditions, common sense tax breaks to make insurance affordable, and the most significant reform of Medicaid in over 50 years. Through this legislation, we also defund Planned Parenthood,” Pittenger said.

Republicans have promised to erase President Barack Obama’s law since its 2010 enactment, but this year — with Donald Trump in the White House and in full control of Congress — is their first real chance to deliver. But polls have shown a public distaste for the repeal effort and a gain in popularity for Obama’s statute, and Democrats — solidly opposing the bill — said Republicans would pay a price in next year’s congressional elections.

“You vote for this bill, you’ll have walked the plank from moderate to radical,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. “You will glow in the dark on this one.”

The bitter health care battle dominated the Capitol even as Congress prepared to give final approval to a bipartisan $1 trillion measure financing federal agencies through September. The House passed that legislation Wednesday, and certain Senate passage will head off a weekend federal shutdown that both parties preferred to avoid.

House Speaker Paul Ryan canceled a March vote on the health care bill because disgruntled conservatives said the measure was too meek while GOP moderates said its cuts were too deep.

He abandoned a second attempt for a vote last week. As late as Tuesday The Associated Press counted 21 GOP opponents — one short of the number that would kill the measure if all Democrats voted no.

Over the past few weeks, the measure was revamped to attract most hard-line conservatives and some GOP centrists. In a final tweak, leaders added a modest pool of money to help people with pre-existing medical conditions afford coverage, a concern that caused a near-fatal rebellion among Republicans in recent days.

The bill would eliminate tax penalties Obama’s law which has clamped down on people who don’t buy coverage and it erases tax increases in the Affordable Care Act on higher-earning people and the health industry. It cuts the Medicaid program for low-income people and lets states impose work requirements on Medicaid recipients. It transforms Obama’s subsidies for millions buying insurance — largely based on people’s incomes and premium costs — into tax credits that rise with consumers’ ages.

It would retain Obama’s requirement that family policies cover grown children until age 26.

But states could get federal waivers freeing insurers from other Obama coverage requirements. With waivers, insurers could charge people with pre-existing illnesses far higher rates than healthy customers, boost prices for older consumers to whatever they wish and ignore the mandate that they cover specified services like pregnancy care.

The bill would block federal payments to Planned Parenthood for a year, considered a triumph by many anti-abortion Republicans.

Robert Pittenger Pittenger

Staff and wire report

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