Freedom Caucus backs health care proposal but obstacles remain

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Story highlights

  • GOP is looking to resuscitate health care reform with a new amendment
  • The proposal would provide states the option to gut certain Obamacare reforms

Washington (CNN)The conservative House Freedom Caucus said Wednesday it is supporting a plan aimed at bridging the internal Republican Party divide between moderates and conservatives on health care reform.

The proposal would give states the chance to apply for waivers that could gut several core Obamacare insurance reforms that protect consumers with pre-existing conditions, including requiring insurers are required to cover certain benefits and remove the ban on allowing carriers to charge more based on a person's health history.
The Freedom Caucus backing could remove a major obstacle to passing a bill that repeals much of the Affordable Care Act, giving House Republicans and President Donald Trump a major victory that has escaped them over the past two months. But there is no guarantee GOP moderates will go along and the bill faces an uphill climb in the Senate.
    The amendment unveiled Tuesday was negotiated between Rep. Tom MacArthur, a New Jersey moderate, and conservative House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows of North Carolina.
    The Freedom Caucus made public its support of the proposal in a statement Wednesday.
    "While the revised version still does not fully repeal Obamacare, we are prepared to support it to keep our promise to the American people to lower healthcare costs," the caucus said in their statement.
    The proposal was intended to appeal to the Freedom Caucus members -- who have long advocated states need more flexibility to drive down insurance premiums -- but the amendment also includes a provision that guarantees members of Congress and their staffs would still get the Obamacare regulatory protections that could be gutted for other consumers. That optics of that weren't sitting well on Capitol Hill just hours after the amendment was unveiled even though multiple House GOP aides said that including the provision was necessary in order to comply with a special set of Senate rules.
    According to a senior GOP aide, leaders were already promising Wednesday morning that once the health care bill as passed, members of Congress would vote separately to ensure that members wouldn't be exempted from the new rules, but it's a rocky start for an amendment that was intended to get Republicans back on track to repeal and replace Obamacare.
    McArthur's office responded to the criticism of special treatment in a statement: "Congressman MacArthur does not believe members of Congress or their staff should receive special treatment and is working with House leadership to make absolutely clear that members of Congress and staff are subject to the same rules, provisions, and protections as all other Americans."
    The exemption issue isn't the only problem with the new amendment, however. There are still questions of whether the amendment will actually get Republican leaders any closer to passing their health care bill.
    One Republican aide who has worked closely on the health care bill said "this probably is not the silver bullet everyone's been looking for."
    While conservative group Club For Growth came out in support of the amendment Wednesday morning, there are major questions as to whether the new changes get moderates any closer to supporting House leadership's bill.
    Moderates already had concerns that previous versions did not do enough to protect poorer, sicker and older Americans. Experts warn that the MacArthur amendment could allow insurers to charger those consumers more.
    But some Republicans -- all of whom were already supporting a previous version of the health care bill -- were sounding optimistic Wednesday morning that the amendment was at the very least progress.
    "We clearly had a very productive dialogue led by Tom MacArthur and Mark Meadows over the break and you could just sense the movement and the desire to get something done," said Rep. Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican. "We're not there yet, but we're awfully close."
    Rep. Mark Walker, the leader of the Republican Study Committee, said that while leadership didn't put a "concrete timeline" on when a vote on the health care bill would happen he said "I do believe there will be a vote on this by early next week."
    During the GOP conference meeting Wednesday morning, members said that Republican Whip Steve Scalise announced that the whip team would begin counting votes this week to see if the amendment was moving the ball.