Trump spurs GOP to tweak health bill before leaving town

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(Bloomberg) — The White House prodded House Republican leaders to make last-minute tweaks to their Obamacare replacement bill Thursday aimed at protecting “high-risk” patients before lawmakers leave Washington for their two-week spring break, according to an administration official and a House leadership aide.

The House Rules Committee is making last-minute plans to hold a meeting Thursday to consider an amendment to create a new risk-sharing fund for the seriously ill.

The move doesn’t indicate the overall bill will go to the floor immediately, but committee action on the amendment is intended to show momentum toward a deal on a bill is building, said the aide. Both the aide and the administration official requested that their names not be used.

Efforts by the Rules Committee to suddenly unveil and rush to adopt an amendment to a bill -- without time for anyone to read it or any immediate intent to take the measure to the House floor -- is highly unusual. But it reflects the strong desire by the White House to demonstrate that the effort to repeal Obamacare isn’t dead, despite the embarrassing setback last month when Republican leaders had to pull the bill from the House floor right before a scheduled vote.

Further details of the provision were not immediately available, but it is sponsored by Reps. Dave Schweikert of Arizona and Gary Palmer of Alabama, both members of the House Freedom Caucus, the conservative group that some other House Republicans have been blaming for blocking a deal on a final bill.

But the change, along with several others that conservatives discussed with White House officials, appears to be winning over at least a few conservative holdouts.

Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows of North Carolina said Thursday morning at an event hosted by Politico that if the offers made over the last few days are in the final bill, then “the majority, if not all of the Freedom Caucus will vote for this bill.”

Lawmakers have discussed allowing states to apply for waivers on some of Obamacare’s requirements, including coverage of essential health benefits and the community rating system, which prevents insurers from varying premiums within a geographic area based on certain factors, including health status. Such a change would allow insurers to charge sick people more for coverage, although Meadows said the Freedom Caucus wants to maintain the current law’s protection for coverage of people with pre-existing conditions.

‘Right direction’
Earlier in a separate statement, he praised the new high-risk pool provision. "Its passage along with additional relief from Obamacare insurance mandates would finally bring down insurance rates," he said in a separate state. "It is a step in the right direction but certainly not the final step."

The time for the meeting has not yet been set, and there was no immediate comment from Rules Chairman Pete Sessions of Texas.

Lawmakers are still scheduled to leave Washington later Thursday afternoon for their annual two-week legislative break without voting on the overall bill. But the new effort comes after a White House request during a visit by House Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy there Wednesday night to show some kind of progress.

Amendment sponsor Palmer is on the House Budget committee, and Schweikert is a member of the tax-code-writing House Ways and Means Committee.

Bloomberg News