GOP Rejiggers Obamacare Bill After Conservative Revolt

June 3, 2013 5:25 a.m.

House Republican leaders have refashioned legislation aimed at improving the party’s credibility on the issue of preexisting conditions after conservatives scuttled it in April.

And they’re planning to vote on it this month.

The critical tweak: The modified legislation does not prop up a piece of Obamacare.

The original bill, championed by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), transferred $3.6 billion from Obamacare’s $10 billion prevention and public health fund to the law’s temporary high-risk pool aimed at covering sick people for the remainder of this year.

The altered version wipes out Obamacare’s prevention fund entirely and uses the money to fund state-based high-risk pools which have nothing to do with the Affordable Care Act.“To address the concerns raised several weeks ago, an amended version of the bill has been drafted,” Cantor wrote Friday afternoon in a memo to House Republicans, which was provided to TPM. “The amendment does not utilize or fund the existing [Obamacare high-risk pool] program, which will expire at the end of the year. Instead, the amendment provides funding for state based high risk pools, the framework that represents the conservative policy answer to helping Americans with preexisting conditions.”

State-based high risk pools, which already exist in many states, are a favorite GOP alternative to Obamacare. While they make some strides in covering people with pre-existing conditions, they are very expensive without younger and healthier people in the system as a counter-balance. (The temporary high-risk pool created under Obamacare quickly ran out of money, too.) States tend not to be able to afford — or want to spend the money — to adequately cover their residents under high risk pools.

Cantor’s memo indicated that the legislation could come up for a floor vote in June.

Conservatives strenuously objected to the original bill, complaining that it muddled their message of fully repealing Obamacare. Freshman members also grumbled that they hadn’t yet had a chance to vote to repeal the law entirely — that wish was granted last month. Lacking the votes, GOP leaders were forced to pull the bill at the last minute.

The modified legislation is likely to face a friendlier reception among conservatives. But it’s dead on arrival in the Democratic-led Senate and would likely be vetoed by President Obama either way. Instead it serves as a messaging device to improve the Republican Party’s credibility when it comes to helping people with preexisting conditions.

Cantor’s message to members, translated: This version chops off more of Obamacare without bolstering any of it. His memo said the Congressional Budget Office estimates the bill would “reduce direct spending by $8.5 billion” if it were to become law.

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