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Republicans gut essential health benefits, endangering bill in the Senate

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A short-sighted attempt to appease conservatives could easily backfire.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., talks to reporters following a closed-door caucus meeting at Republican National Committee headquarters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 15, 2016. CREDIT: AP/Scott J. Applewhite

House Republicans leaders promised hard-right conservatives yet another concession on the health care bill on Wednesday, but it has already lost key support from House moderates and may seriously endanger their chances of getting the bill through the Senate. Ahead of the vote on Thursday, GOP leaders said the Senate would gut Obamacare’s Essential Health Benefits rule after the House passes the American Health Care Act.

That rule requires insurance plans to cover a basic minimum of health care services. These benefits include maternity and newborn care, pediatric care, emergency services, substance abuse treatment, and prescription drugs. Organizations representing 400,000 doctors wrote a letter to Congressional leaders earlier this year asking them to keep these requirements in a replacement of Obamacare.

Deputy House Whip Rep. Richard Hudson (R-NC) told Talking Points Memo that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) assured him that he would amend the bill to gut the essential health benefits requirement when it came to the Senate. McConnell did not return TPM’s calls to confirm his support. On Tuesday, McConnell said, “We’re not slowing down …We will reach a conclusion on health care next week,” even though many Senate Republicans haven’t read the House bill, Politico reported.

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On Wednesday night, Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-NC) told Fox News’ Sean Hannity that he and President Donald Trump reached an “agreement in principle” on a plan to replace Obamacare. He said there is “still work to be done.”

“I think what we’re trying to do now is make sure that our agreement is actually something that can be executed in a way that passes the Senate,” Meadows said.

But Republican leaders still have not won the Freedom Caucus’ full support. Members want to strip the bill of more regulations under the ACA, including the provision that requires insurers to cover people with pre-existing conditions, according to Politico.

Freedom Caucus aide Alyssa Farah tweeted on Wednesday night, “No decisions reached. Continuing to negotiate. The Freedom Caucus continues to have serious concerns with current AHCA text.”

More moderate House Republicans have announced their opposition to the bill this week, and the House can’t lose more than 22 votes. Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA), who leads the a moderate group in the House called the Tuesday Group, said he couldn’t support the bill.

“I believe this bill, in its current form, will lead to the loss of coverage and make insurance unaffordable for too many Americans, particularly for low-to-moderate income and older individuals,” Dent said in a statement after a meeting with Speaker Paul Ryan and House leaders on Wednesday night.

Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) also registered his continued opposition on Twitter, saying that eliminating essential health benefits had actually made the health care proposal worse.

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Republicans gut essential health benefits, endangering bill in the Senate was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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