Ryan: More help for older people needed in GOP health bill

2017-03-19 19:23
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise holds up a copy of the original Affordable Care Act during a news conference on Capitol Hill. (J Scott Applewhite, AP)

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise holds up a copy of the original Affordable Care Act during a news conference on Capitol Hill. (J Scott Applewhite, AP)

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Washington - House Speaker Paul Ryan says he will seek changes to a divisive GOP health care bill to provide more help to older people hard hit by the plan.

A Congressional Budget Office analysis last week concluded that older people would likely pay higher premiums under the proposal to repeal and replace Barack Obama's health care law.

Speaking on Fox News Sunday, Ryan says he believed the CBO analysis was not accurate, but agreed that people in their 50s and 60s experienced higher health care costs.

The Wisconsin Republican said "we believe we should offer more assistance than what the bill currently does" and that it was one of several possible revisions to help round up enough House votes for the bill.

A House vote on the plan is scheduled for Thursday.

Ryan insisted that he felt "very good" about the bill's prospects but acknowledged that House leadership was "making fine-tuning improvements to the bill to reflect people's concerns".

'The biggest losers'

Under the GOP plan, older people who are not yet eligible for Medicare stand to be the biggest losers. It would shrink the tax credits they use to help buy insurance and it would increase their premiums because the bill allows insurers to charge more as people age and become more susceptible to health problems.

A Congressional Budget Office analysis last week said a 64-year-old with income of $26 500 would pay $1 700 out of pocket for insurance under the Affordable Care Act, compared with $14 600 under the GOP plan. It estimated that 24 million people of all ages would lose coverage over 10 years.

On Sunday, Ryan said he believed the CBO analysis was not accurate because Obamacare wouldn't be able to last 10 years. But he allowed the additional assistance was one of several House revisions to be discussed in advance of Thursday's vote, along with possible changes to help low-income people more with tax credits and require able-bodied Medicaid recipients to meet work requirements.

"We think that we should be offering even more assistance than what the bill currently does," he said.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price also said legislative revisions were possible.

"If it needs more beefing up ... for folks who are low income, between 50 and 64 years of age, that's something that we've talked about, something that we've entertained, and that may happen throughout the process," he said.

Their comments came as President Donald Trump and House leaders seek to win support from GOP sceptics as prospects for the bill remain wobbly.

Last week, Trump agreed to add fresh Medicaid curbs to appease some conservatives. But moderate Republicans are balking over the CBO's findings that millions more people would lack coverage even while premiums in many cases could rise.

In a Facebook post on Saturday night, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., said he couldn't vote for the bill, stressing a need "to take our time and to get this right". He joins GOP Rep. John Katko, from a closely divided district in upstate New York, who cited inadequate insurance access and cost controls.

In the Senate, where Republicans hold a narrow 52-48 majority, prospects for the GOP bill also were uncertain as both moderates and conservatives criticised it.

Opposing the bill

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said she would not vote for the measure without additional changes to provide more aid to older Americans.

She also wants an improved proposal that would cover more Americans and offer better Medicaid benefits than the current GOP plan.

She joins at least four other GOP senators in opposing the bill, after conservative Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said on Sunday he wouldn't vote for it as is. Sens. Dean Heller of Nevada, Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky are also opposed.

"I cannot vote for any bill that keeps premiums rising," Cruz said.

Rep. Steve Scalise, the Louisiana Republican who serves as majority whip, sent out a message late on Sunday to encourage House Republicans to support the health care measure.

"These next few days could define us for years to come," he said. "The American Health Care Act needs to pass the House of Representatives so the American people can be rescued from Obamacare."

He encouraged fellow Republicans pushing for support from House colleagues to "remind members that attacks from the Left are nothing new and rarely accurate". He told them: "This is our moment to make history."

Separately, Ryan said he also expected the House to make changes to Trump's proposed budget, which calls for a boost to military spending but big-time cuts in domestic programs. Trump's plan, for instance, would cut $5.8bn from the National Institutes of Health, an 18% drop for the $32bn agency that funds much of the nation's research into what causes different diseases and what it will take to treat them.

Ryan said Congress was proud to have passed the Cures Act last year, which calls for additional NIH money for "breakthrough discoveries on cancer and other diseases", so he expects the proposed NIH cut to be revised.

"I would say, this is the very, very beginning of the budget process," he said. "We are encouraged that we're seeing an increase in defence because we think our military has been hollowed out. But I will say that NIH is something that's particularly popular in Congress...so, that is something that I think in Congress you'll see probably some changes."

Ryan spoke on "Fox News Sunday," Price appeared on ABC's "This Week," Collins was on NBC's "Meet the Press" and Cruz spoke on CBS' "Face the Nation."

 

Read more on:    paul ryan  |  us

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