Pat Roberts

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Republicans are considering scrapping 10 "essential benefits" in their repeal of Obamacare

Sen. Pat Roberts' description of why those benefits weren't essential landed him in hot water

CNN  — 

Sen. Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican, apologized Thursday afternoon for making an apparent joke about mammograms related to what features are or are not included in Republicans’ plan to repeal and replace Obamacare.

“I deeply regret my comments on such an important topic,” Roberts said in a statement. “I know several individuals whose lives have been saved by mammograms, and I recognize how essential they are to women’s health. I never intended to indicate otherwise, and I apologize for my comments.”

Roberts, who’s known for employing a dry sense of humor, told a Talking Points Memo reporter earlier in the day: “I wouldn’t want to lose my mammograms.”

He was referring to a potential change in the Republican health care plan that would gut a measure requiring insurers to cover “essential health benefits,” including mammograms for breast cancer screening.

“Cancer is no joke,” Rep. Judy Chu, D-California said on Twitter. “Mammograms save lives. Same reason we pay for prostate exams. Government shouldn’t decide what care women can access.”

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Roberts, in an interview with CNN Thursday before he issued the apology, argued that not all of the benefits declared essential are “really needed,” and suggested individuals should be able to choose plans that let them decide what’s essential.

“I don’t think it’s the end of the world in terms of coverage by any means,” he said. “That would be by the decision of the individual and the doctor of their choice. That’s the whole point. “

Asked whether mammograms should be covered, Roberts suggested he wouldn’t need them because he’s a male.

“Not for me,” he said.

And while he said it was up “for the House to decide,” he said mammogram coverage is a “reasonable topic of discussion” and argued that it would help premiums go down.