White House officials presented an offer to the conservative House Freedom Caucus on Monday night as they seek to revive the ObamaCare replacement bill.
Vice President Pence and other White House officials presented an idea at the Freedom Caucus meeting to allow states to choose to apply for waivers to repeal two ObamaCare regulations that conservatives argue are driving up premiums.
Those two regulations detail ObamaCare’s essential health benefits, which mandate which health services insurers must cover, and “community rating,” which prevents insurers from charging sick people higher premiums.
Conservatives had previously called for the bill to repeal those regulations outright, but the deal now being discussed would give states a choice by allowing them to apply for a waiver from the federal government.
Freedom Caucus members expressed openness to the proposal but cautioned that they need to review the legislative text, which they hoped would be available within the next 24 hours.
Multiple lawmakers said the White House is hoping to have a vote as soon as this week, though Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the Freedom Caucus chairman, cautioned against setting “artificial” deadlines.
“There is no deal in principle; there is a solid idea that was offered,” Meadows told reporters after the meeting.
“We’re certainly encouraged by the progress we seem to be making,” he added.
He said that repeal of the two regulations in question would provide enough yes votes to pass the bill but cautioned that the Freedom Caucus needs to review the legislative language and make sure it is adequate.
No lawmakers who were previously opposed to the American Health Care Act have switched their position because there is currently a lack of detail, Meadows said Monday night.
House leadership has not taken a hands-on approach so far to the revived negotiations and as recently as a week ago was essentially saying the bill was dead.
There is also the question of how moderates would respond to the proposal. Centrists previously objected to adding repeal of the essential health benefits to the bill.
Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), a member of the centrist Tuesday Group, argued that giving states the choice, and making them meet certain standards in putting together a waiver application, could allay centrist concerns.
White House officials met with a group of centrists, as well as House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) earlier in the day.
It’s unclear whether the changes would pass muster under Senate rules governing a filibuster.
Meadows indicated that officials are checking to at least make sure that the changes would not be “fatal” to the entire bill under the rules, though it is still possible the provisions would end up being struck out in the Senate.
While Meadows emphasized that the ban on denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions would not be repealed, Democratic health experts point out that allowing insurers to charge sick people higher rates could effectively put coverage out of reach.
Meadows argued that a “stability fund” under the measure could subsidize higher premiums to bring down the cost for sick people. Lawmakers are also looking at better directing those $115 billion in stability fund dollars to target them toward reducing premiums.
Meadows indicated there would not be time for a Congressional Budget Office analysis of the changes if the new bill were voted on this week, which is sure to draw an outcry from some. That would mean lawmakers would not be certain of the cost or coverage effects of the bill when they voted.