Republicans weigh health law changes as doubts mount

© Reuters. People Protest President Trump‘s Proposed Replacement for Obamacare in Los Angeles

By Susan Heavey and Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House and congressional leaders said Tuesday they were weighing changes to their plan to dismantle the Obamacare healthcare bill as questions from Republicans mounted after an estimate that 14 million Americans would lose their for sure next year.

Press Secretary Sean Spicer said White House officials and leaders of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives were considering whether to modify their bill, which faces growing doubts within the party’s ranks.

“Obviously we are going to make some modifications,” House Speaker Paul Ryan told Fox News, though he said the bill would remain largely intact.

The nonpartisan U.S. Congressional Budget Office estimated Monday that by 2026, the plan would increase the number of people without health insurance by 24 million.

Those findings sparked some Republican defections and made it difficult for Republican President Donald Trump to sell his first major law. Trump hopes to fulfill a longstanding promise by his political party to undo the iconic domestic policy achievement of former Democratic President Barack Obama.

Trump spoke by phone Tuesday with Ryan and Joseph Swedish, CEO of managed care company Anthem Inc. He has also hosted Republicans at the White House.

“Part of the reason we engage with these people is to listen to their ideas,” Spicer said. “We are obviously in discussions with the House leadership on content.”

The debate arises as voter interest in the issue grows. Health care was a top priority for Americans, according to a Reuters / Ipsos survey of 1,747 people in March. Sixteen percent chose health care as their number one problem, compared to 14 percent for the economy and 11 percent who chose terrorism.

It was the first time that healthcare topped the list since the survey began in 2012. The survey has a credibility interval, a measure of precision, of 3 percentage points.

The Republicans’ plan to replace the Affordable Care Act of 2010, popularly known as Obamacare, would repeal a penalty against Americans who do not purchase health insurance and cut spending on the Medicaid program for the poor and disabled.

It would also renew tax subsidies that help people buy insurance if they don’t get it from work. Amounts would be based on age, not income.

Democrats say the Republican plan would hurt the elderly, the poor and working families, but lower taxes on the rich. Doctors, hospitals and advocates for patients and the elderly have also criticized him.

After the CBO report, some Republicans in the House of Representatives gained support. New Jersey Rep. Leonard Lance, who said the report “changed the dynamics,” said the bill could not be approved by the Senate.

Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who is from South Florida, tweeted: “As written, the plan leaves too many in my district without insurance.”

Spicer said the CBO is having a hard time calculating insurance coverage. Before the 2010 law was passed, the bureau projected that more people would buy individual insurance plans through new online marketplaces than they actually did.

However, the White House has promoted the CBO’s estimate of the plan’s effect on federal deficits. The report said it would lead to a deficit drop of $ 337 billion between 2017 and 2026.

POSSIBLE CHANGES

The Trump administration must heal divisions in his party. Moderates, particularly in the Senate, worry that people will lose coverage, while conservatives don’t think the bill will go far enough to undo Obamacare.

House leaders have resisted a conservative push to end Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid faster. But they are considering changes to tax credits to help older and lower-income Americans.

The CBO said the group could see higher premiums because the Republican plan would allow insurers to charge older members more than they can under Obamacare.

Rep. Kevin Brady, who heads a tax-writing committee, said the House was exploring options, but did not elaborate. John Thune, the third Senate Republican, has proposed modifying the plan’s insurance tax credit to help low-income Americans.

Republican senators had lunch on Capitol Hill with Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price to discuss possible changes. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the bill could be changed in the Republican-controlled Senate.

ACTIONS FALL

Shares of hospitals and health insurers fell, in part on concerns the plan would mean fewer insured patients.

Among insurer stocks, UnitedHealth Group Inc (NYSE 🙂 closed 0.7 percent lower, and Aetna Inc (NYSE 🙂 and Humana Inc (NYSE 🙂 each fell 0.5 percent.

“It looks like it’s going to be the dismantling of the individual insurance market, which again means lower revenues,” said Vishnu Lekraj, an equity analyst at Morningstar.

The participation of hospitals was also lower. Tenet Healthcare Corp (NYSE 🙂 closed 3.3 percent lower and HCA Holdings Inc closed 1.5 percent lower.