Most Mich. House GOP disappointed by pulled health bill

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Michigan House Republicans expressed disappointment Friday after GOP leaders abruptly pulled their health care overhaul bill because of a shortage of votes needed to pass it.

U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg (R-7th District) makes an appeal for re-election from his campaign office in Jackson, Michigan. (September, 2016)

“We had an opportunity. Many of us are disappointed,” said Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton, leaving a meeting of the Republican conference at the U.S. Capitol.

“We need to fix this. It’s hurting our people — the Affordable Care Act — regardless of what the Democrats say. It’s hurting people. Our people know that. Some of us care.”

Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, said House Speaker Paul Ryan pulled the bill in part because he didn’t want vulnerable Republicans to cast a politically risky vote if the legislation was doomed to fail.

“The speaker feels strongly about not putting people in harm’s way needlessly who were going to be taking a tough vote,” Huizenga said.

“What I’m hoping is that cooler heads will prevail at some point, and we preserve the opportunity to go back and revisit this.”

Huizenga acknowledged the defeat raises questions about what other major reforms the GOP can tackle successfully, even while they control the White House and both chambers of Congress.

“It doesn’t look good, does it? It just doesn’t,” he said. “I wonder with some of my colleagues, whether they wrote the bill themselves if they could get to ‘yes.’ If you come here and are concerned about protecting a brand, or protecting a voting score, you’re never going to get there.”

The only Republican in Michigan’s delegation who intended to vote no was Rep. Justin Amash of Cascade Township, who opposed the GOP health care bill since its introduction, saying it didn’t go far enough to repeal the Affordable Care Act. He was part of a majority of House Freedom Caucus members who intended to reject the plan.

“I’ve always said we need a bill that a broader coalition can get behind. It’s certainly possible to get members on the right and left together to produce something that would satisfy more people,” Amash said after the canceled vote. “The responsible thing to do is to keep legislating. That’s our job.”

Asked about criticism of the Freedom Caucus, he defended the caucus’ negotiations with House leadership, GOP moderates and the White House, saying they wanted to bring Republicans together.

“We absolutely negotiated in good faith, and we reached out to the (moderate) Tuesday Group and others in our conference,” Amash said.

“But from the beginning of the process, the way it was set up did not bring the disparate groups of the conference together. We need to start from the beginning, making sure all of the concerns are addressed. There is definitely room for compromise among the various sides.”

What bill proposed

The GOP bill, known as the American Health Care Act, would have rolled back the Obama law’s taxes and ended the mandate that individuals must have health coverage or face a fine. Instead of subsidies for those who purchase insurance, the GOP plan offered refundable tax credits to help with buying coverage.

It also would have restructured the Medicaid program for low-income residents and phased out the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act in states such as Michigan.

“I was committed to working on that and not holding on tenaciously to a lie — a failed system — because it has a previous president’s name on it,” said Rep. Paul Mitchell, R-Dryden.

“I thought the American Health Care Act was progress. There’s little that’s perfect in the world. Take that progress and continue working on it. I think people should buckle to reality, and stop thinking they have the only answer to the problem.”

Democratic leaders planned to vote as a bloc against the legislation, expecting one absence.

Dearborn Democrat Rep. Debbie Dingell praised the bill’s collapse, citing an analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that found 24 million Americans would lose or choose not to buy health care coverage over a decade.

“Our work is not done. It is now time to work together in a bipartisan way to build off the progress we’ve made and find real solutions to improve the ACA for the American people,” Dingell said in a statement.

GOP leaders incorporated changes into the legislation Friday in an attempt to win over more Republicans, but it wasn’t enough.

Revisions included improving Medicaid benefits for some older and disabled individuals and repealing the requirement under the 2010 law that insurers cover 10 categories of “essential health benefits,” including prenatal and newborn care, mental health services, emergency room visits and outpatient care.

Democrats opposed plan

U.S. Rep. David Trott

“Even for those who might be able to have health insurance, without essential benefits ensured, that will just be a health insurance card. Not access to an emergency room. Not access to maternal care. Not access to prescription drugs. Not access to hospitalization,” Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, said on the House floor. “Basically you will be able to get diagnosed but not get actual care.”

Some experts predicted that removing the essential benefits requirements could weaken protections for covering patients with pre-existing conditions.

Rep. Dave Trott, a Birmingham Republican who supported the bill, doubted it would happen because the law’s language on pre-existing conditions would have remained intact. But he said he recognizes that if no insurers in a state offer, for example, coverage for mental health services, it could be costly for consumers, and Congress might need to “tweak” that.

“People can’t anticipate every health situation they’re going to encounter in their lives, so we certainly don’t want an unintended consequence of changing the essential health care benefits to be they don’t have coverage for something they need coverage for,” Trott said at the Capitol.

Rep. Fred Upton, a moderate Republican from St. Joseph, said Friday he intended to support the bill.

“This bill is the only train leaving the station,” Upton said on the floor. “Is it going to improve if it gets to the Senate? Of course, it will. We should all work for that goal.”

Upton said he fought a full repeal of the Affordable Care Act to preserve a “reasonable” transition period until 2020 for states such as Michigan that expanded Medicaid and to grandfather in beneficiaries until they cycle off the program.

He said he opposed full repeal because it would have taken away away insurance for young children on their parents’ policies, reinstalled a lifetime cap on insurance and allowed insurers to “discriminate” against those with pre-existing illnesses.

“This bill still allows all of those important protections to stay in place,” Upton said.

Rep. Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, said the bill wasn’t perfect but a “dramatic step in the right direction.”

“In the last few weeks alone, I have heard from thousands of constituents — on both sides of the aisle — acknowledging Obamacare’s growing failures,” Bishop said in a statement. “Obamacare will continue to collapse, and every single member of Congress has an obligation to come to the table and do something about it.”

Rep. Sandy Levin, D-Royal Oak, slammed the bill for giving away $1 trillion in tax breaks “mostly for the very wealthy and corporations.”

“The Republican bill robs millions of needed insurance for their health and in many cases would rob them of their life,” Levin said on the floor. “The Republican plan would create death panels for numerous unknown Americans. This is not our America. America can do better. We must.”

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