HHS secretary likens health care vote to Kentucky Derby: 'an important first step'

What's in the Republican health care bill
What's in the Republican health care bill

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    What's in the Republican health care bill

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Story highlights

  • Health and Human Services secretary Tom Price defended a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare
  • Price was pressed to answer critics who argue the GOP plan weakens protections for some

(CNN)Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price on Friday hailed House Republicans' passage of a health care reform bill, while cautioning that it's an "important first step" and that critical components remain before "repeal and replace" becomes a policy reality.

"It's an important first step in this legislative process," Sec. Price said on "Fox & Friends" Friday morning.
"The Kentucky Derby is coming up -- you can't win the Triple Crown unless you win the Kentucky Derby."
Price was also asked to answer critics of the GOP bill, who point out that it weakens protections for pre-existing conditions mandated by Obamacare, and is projected to increase health care costs for older and sicker Americans.
Price was asked specifically about waivers in the plan that would allow insurers to charge older Americans even more than five times the premiums of the young.
"Well, it's pricing for what individuals' health status is," he said. "That is important to appreciate. Somebody's going to pay for health coverage for the American people and the question is, how do you do that?"
Price said, "it is important to stress once again, individuals with pre-existing illnesses and injuries and conditions, they are going to be covered. The President has made that commitment. This bill that passed through the House yesterday will make certain that is the case."
The Obamacare repeal bill that was passed by the House on Thursday, however, would weaken coverage for individuals with pre-existing conditions in a number of ways.
States could get waivers that would allow carriers to set premiums based on enrollees' medical backgrounds under several circumstances. Those enrollees would have to have let their coverage lapse, and the state would have to set up a risk program -- such as a high-risk pool -- that, in some cases, could provide help to those being charged higher premiums. States could also seek waivers that would allow insurers to sell plans that don't include all the essential health benefits mandated by the Affordable Care Act.
Asked about Republicans' timeline for advancing the bill through the Senate -- where it faces significant hurdles -- and to President Donald Trump's desk, Price was noncommittal.
"I understand (the Senate) will take the construct of the House bill. They have to go through, I understand, the Byrd path, the rules in the Senate make it so they have got to determine what in the House legislation can stand," he said. "Then the senators have to engage."