By Susan Cornwell and Yasmeen Abutaleb
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – America’s leading medical organization and several hospital groups protested vigorously on Wednesday against a Republican plan backed by President Donald Trump to reform America’s health care system, as Democrats waged a fierce battle to thwart the bill.
Two House committees began debating the plan and considering amendments two days after it was presented by Republican leaders. The legislation is aimed at repealing and replacing the Obamacare Act, which Republicans call a government overreach that has ruined healthcare in the United States.
Trump and his fellow Republicans in Congress campaigned last year promising to dismantle the iconic domestic policy achievement of former Democratic President Barack Obama.
But they face resistance from conservatives in their own party, who have condemned the bill for being too similar to the law it purports to supplant. Meanwhile, Democrats have denounced it as a gift to the rich that will uninsurance from millions of people.
“What they are doing is very destructive … It represents the largest transfer of money to the richest people in our country, the richest 1 percent, at the expense of working families,” the Democratic leader of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi.
Doctors and other providers said the bill would likely cause many patients to lose insurance and increase health care costs. The group of doctors from the American Medical Association urged senior lawmakers in a letter to reconsider drastic changes to Medicaid, the government’s health insurance program for the poor.
The AMA, which supported Obamacare, said that replacing income-based subsidies with age-based tax credits to help people buy insurance would make coverage more expensive, if not out of reach, for poor and sick Americans.
Obamacare, formally called the Affordable Care Act, allowed 20 million previously uninsured people to get coverage, about half through a Medicaid expansion that would end the new law.
Insurers are concerned about the affordability of the tax structure and have proposed major changes to Medicaid funding.
In a letter to Congress, America’s Health Insurance Plans, representing Anthem Inc and others, indicated that it was still a concern, despite many aspects of the draft that would help stabilize the individual insurance market.
Seven hospital groups, including the American Hospital Association, the Essential Hospitals of America, and the Catholic Health Association of the United States, also voiced their opposition, writing in a letter to lawmakers that the proposal could create “tremendous instability.” for people looking for affordable health coverage. including children, the elderly and the disabled.
Republicans control the chambers of Congress and the White House for the first time in a decade. But the bill’s fate is far from certain, with several conservative Republicans saying it’s not a total repeal and sets up new rights programs.
Trump met with leaders of conservative groups on Wednesday who have concerns about the bill.
“I am encouraged that the president has indicated that they are pushing for changes,” David McIntosh, of one of the groups, Club for Growth, told reporters after the meeting.
“WISH LIST CONSERVATIVES”
The House Ways and Means Committee, with jurisdiction over taxes, and the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees health issues, kicked off what could become marathon work sessions on legislation.
The plan would remove Obamacare’s requirement that most Americans obtain health insurance and replace its income-based subsidies with a system of fixed tax credits to persuade people to buy private insurance on the open market.
Trying to appease his party’s skeptics, House Speaker Paul Ryan, an architect of the plan, touted it as “a conservative wish list” and a “monumental and exciting conservative reform.”
Rep. Mark Walker, head of the Republican Study Committee (RSC), the largest group of conservatives in Congress, said RSC leaders could support the bill if two changes are made.
The first, proposed by Representative Joe Barton on the Energy and Commerce Committee, would advance the end of enrollment in the Medicaid expansion by two years until January 2018. The second would make age-based tax credits for buy health insurance were partially refundable rather than fully refundable. .
With these changes, “we would be a tough ‘yes,'” Walker told reporters.
Democrats were using every possible procedural maneuver to delay the committee’s work, including requiring votes to adjourn the House. The top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Frank Pallone, called the Republican plan “a recipe for disaster” and said there had not been a single hearing to develop the bill.
Republicans insisted on the committee’s action even though the Congressional Budget Office had yet to make its usual assessment of the cost of the measure and how many people it would cover.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer said: “If you are looking for precision at the CBO, you are looking in the wrong place.”
Ways and Means Democrats raised questions about the bill’s proposed tax exemption for insurance company executives, with Rep. Lloyd Doggett calling it a “$ 400 million windfall” for insurance company executives. insurance.
Hospital stocks recovered some of Tuesday’s losses after the bill was introduced. Community Health Systems Inc was up 4.5 percent and Tenet Healthcare Corp (NYSE 🙂 gained 1.5 percent. Shares of health insurers, including WellCare Health Plans Inc and Aetna Inc (NYSE :), closed moderately higher.