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"We want the federal government out of the health insurance business," King said

Republicans are having a difficult time getting the votes needed to pass a bill this week

(CNN) —  

A Republican lawmaker says he moved from supporting his party’s health care replacement bill to being undecided due to the recent inclusion of so-called “essential health benefits,” such as emergency services, hospitalization and prescription drugs.

Rep. Steve King said there was an agreement that his language in the original bill that would “strike out” the requirement to cover essential health benefits would be offered in the Senate with the support of President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. But now, he said, he wasn’t so sure.

“Once they negotiated (essential health benefits) with the Freedom Caucus and Tuesday Group, it is hard for me to imagine they will bring that language in the Senate, or that it will be effective because they diluted this thing substantially,” he told CNN’s Chris Cuomo Wednesday on “New Day.”

The House Freedom Caucus is a staunchly conservative group of House Republican lawmakers while the Tuesday Group consists of more moderate Republicans.

The Affordable Care Act – also known as Obamacare – requires insurers to cover 10 essential health benefits in all plans sold on the individual and small group markets. It has made coverage more comprehensive – if also more expensive – and prevented insurers from selling skimpy plans that were cheap but didn’t offer many benefits, often leaving consumers with big bills if they needed care.

Republicans are having a difficult time getting the 216 votes needed to pass a bill this week, mainly over the issue of pre-existing conditions. The replacement bill would allow insurers to charge people with pre-existing conditions more for their health care if those people let their insurance lapse at any point.

But even some of the Republicans who have been most vocal about getting rid of President Barack Obama’s landmark legislation acknowledge that it is essential to keep protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

King doesn’t want the federal government guaranteeing coverage for pre-existing conditions and believes the issue should be left to the states.

“There is no reason for the federal government to stay in the health insurance business,” he said. “The President and I agree. We want the federal government out of the health insurance business.”

“I come from a state that took care of pre-existing conditions,” the Iowa Republican added. “I chaired the Iowa Senate state government committee where we oversaw that operation. There are a good number of states that have done so.”

New Jersey Rep. Tom MacArthur, a moderate Republican, and leaders of the conservative House Freedom Caucus cut the deal last week that would require insurers to cover those with pre-existing conditions but, unlike under Obamacare, could charge them higher rates if they allow their coverage to lapse.

King said the challenges Republicans are having getting a health care bill passed would not exist had the party prioritized repealing and replacing Obamacare in January.

“I think we should have started from this. We should have brought full 100% repeal of Obamacare to the floor (the) first week in January, sent it to the Senate,” he said. “We would have been talking about what could we jam through reconciliation rather than what you can keep for regional interests.”

King is not sure that Republicans have enough votes to bring the bill before the floor this week.

“I would say that’s a complete toss of the coin. I think they are holding four to six votes short of going to the floor,” he said.