WASHINGTON – The House canceled a vote last week on a healthcare bill due to a lack of support, highlighting a split among GOP members about the party’s image and its priorities.
House Republicans planned to introduce legislation Wednesday that would rescue an important program of the Affordable Care Act, coverage for pre-existing medical conditions, at the expense of another vital component of the law.
But Republicans leaders decided to shelve the bill just hours after House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said they were making progress on the legislation.
The measure met strong opposition from two directions: Democrats united against the bill because they see it as an attempt to repeal the health law and conservative groups resistant to any federal role in healthcare.
Cantor announced a vote on this legislation last Thursday, before GOP leadership could assess whether the bill had enough support, which did not go over well with some Republicans who thought Cantor was forcing the bill to the House floor.
Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.) said during a panel led by conservative House Republicans on Wednesday morning that he wanted to wait and see how the bill was amended, but said he was “uncomfortable” that the legislation had not gone through the regular process.
A group of congressmen, including Reps. Tim Huelskamp (Kan.), Raul Labrador (Idaho), Jim Jordan (Ohio), Justin Amash (Mich.), Steve Scalise (La.), Trey Radel (Fla.) and Stutzman, told reporters at the panel they opposed the bill because they worry that it would bolster Obamacare.
The Helping Sick Americans Now Act cuts what Republicans call a “slush fund” and uses the money to subsidize insurance for people with pre-existing conditions. The bill would move $4 billion from the Affordable Care Act’s $10 billion Prevention and Public Health Fund into the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan (PCIP), a program of high-risk pools.
The PCIP was a stopgap measure intended to help people who have trouble getting private insurance because of a medical condition, allowing those who have been uninsured for at least six months to get coverage at average rates. The program is scheduled to end in 2014 when other components of Obamacare take full effect.
The original goal of the PCIP was to reach more than 300,000 people by the end of the year, but because the costs were higher than anticipated, the administration had to stop taking new applications in February. The program has enrolled slightly more than 100,000 people so far.
The GOP bill would extend the program through the end of the year. The White House said that the money from the PCIP, which Republicans refer to as a “slush fund” for Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, is vital to promoting disease prevention programs and publicizing the new health insurance market opening this fall. On the other hand, Republicans said the Obama administration is using around $300 million from that fund to publicize the new health insurance markets coming this fall under Obamacare.
“We want to stop Obamacare and that’s why we’re going to the fund, the slush fund, that Secretary Sebelius is using for the implementation of the bill,” said Cantor hours before the vote on the bill was canceled.
Huelskamp said he opposed the bill because it expanded a portion of Obamacare, calling it “a bailout for those states that don’t have a high risk pool.” He also said that the bill sends a confusing message to the party base because it expands a portion of the federal health law.
“Republicans should be about managing healthcare in a way that actually the cost of [it] for ordinary Americans goes down,” said Labrador. “Subsidizing the struggles of ordinary Americans is not the solution to the problems we are facing here in Washington.”
Conservative groups like Heritage Action and the Club for Growth, a conservative political action committee, warned that Republicans who voted in favor of the bill would have scorecards marked down for supporting part of Obamacare.
“It’s pretty simple. We’re shifting money from one part of Obamacare we don’t support to another part of Obamacare we don’t support,” said Amash. “That’s a nonstarter for me.”
“Oftentimes, Republicans say, ‘We don’t like this Democratic big government program, let’s replace it with our Republican big government program.’ Enough is enough,” said Radel, who thinks the GOP should oppose any bill that does not repeal the federal health law even if it is just a symbolic message sent to their party base.
Cantor delivered a speech in February that said his party needed to get beyond “its single-minded, green-eyeshaded message” of fiscal austerity and look to the problems of ordinary struggling Americans. His message was well received, but disagreement over how to pitch the conservative message and the approach they should take to help the American people remains among Republicans.
“The American people are not asking us to be just a little to the right of the Democratic Party. They want us to have a robust discussion on how conservative principles can actually help them in their everyday lives,” said Labrador.
Many of the representatives told reporters they were planning to vote no on the bill, mainly because it did nothing to repeal Obamacare.
“The president of the U.S. promised the American people free healthcare…and now when his vision faces the reality that it actually cost money to give people healthcare and that it costs money to actually have people with pre-existing conditions covered in all healthcare policies…there’s an actual cost that the American people were never told,” Labrador continued.
“This thing is a disaster, and it’s the biggest issue you hear from big and small businesses in my district,” said Scalise. “We need to get a vote on full repeal and ask the Republican leadership about this.”