Trump meeting with Upton, others on plan to revive health bill

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 08: Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump planned to meet Wednesday with lawmakers who authored a plan aimed at preventing another collapse of the Republican health care bill. House Speaker Paul Ryan praised the proposal and said the GOP was getting “extremely close” to finally being able to pass the stalled legislation.

The White House meeting and Ryan’s optimism comes with House leaders short of votes for their drive to repeal much of President Barack Obama’s health care law. GOP leaders are hoping to create momentum for the legislation — especially among holdout moderates — so they can push it through the House before it breaks for a week-long recess Friday.

White House officials and some House lawmakers have said leaders are single-digit votes shy of winning the 216 they’ll need to push the legislation through the House.

“We’re getting extremely close,” Ryan, R-Wis., said on radio’s “The Hugh Hewitt Show.”

Trump planned to discuss the health care bill with four key House members, including Reps. Fred Upton, R-Mich., and Billy Long, R-Mo.

Upton, an influential centrist who’d initially announced opposition to his party’s health care bill, said late Tuesday that he was crafting an amendment with Long, backed by party leaders, that could gain crucial support for the languishing legislation.

Upton, former chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, described the plan to The Associated Press late Tuesday. Hours earlier, he’d announced opposition to the legislation, dealing it a damaging blow because he is a respected authority on health care.

Upton said the proposal would provide $8 billion over five years to help some people with pre-existing medical conditions pay costly insurance premiums. Many moderates say they’re opposing the legislation because it would open the door to insurers charging some people with pre-existing illnesses higher premiums.

It was initially unclear how much support the revision would attract. But Ryan said the proposal “is something that nobody has a problem with, and it’s actually helping” round up support.

Including Upton and Long, The Associated Press has counted 21 GOP lawmakers opposing the Republican bill, one shy of the 22 needed to kill it, assuming all Democrats vote no.

At least 11 others said they were undecided, but all the figures are subject to fluctuation as both sides lobby heavily.

Earlier Tuesday, several Republicans said leaders were considering adding money to fund high-risk pools or other mechanisms for helping states ease costs for people with pre-existing illnesses, who are expensive to cover. There’s already around $130 billion in the legislation for such assistance, which critics call a fraction of what would be needed for adequate coverage.

Under Obama’s law, insurers must charge healthy and seriously ill customers the same rates.

The existing health care measure would let states get federal waivers allowing insurers to charge higher premiums to people with pre-existing illnesses who’d let their coverage lapse. To get the waiver, the state must have a high-risk pool or another mechanism to help such people afford a policy.

The bill’s supporters say it protects those with pre-existing conditions and that the exclusion would affect only some of them.

But opponents said the GOP bill effectively denies coverage by letting insurers charge the seriously ill unaffordable prices. They say high-risk pools have a mixed record because government money financing them often proves inadequate.

The money in Upton’s plan would help people with pre-existing illnesses pay premiums in states where insurers can charge them more.

An initial health care bill imploded in March under opposition by conservative and moderate Republicans. The overall bill would cut Medicaid, repeal tax boosts on higher-earning people, eliminate Obama’s fines on people who don’t buy insurance and give many of them smaller federal subsidies.

White House officials and House leaders continued their hunt for the 216 votes they’d need to send one of Trump’s and the GOP’s top campaign priorities to the Senate, where its fate is uncertain. Trump had called a dozen lawmakers in the past day, White House officials said.

Vice President Mike Pence met individually Tuesday with GOP lawmakers in his Capitol office, and House leaders held sessions with members as well.

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