How A Pivotal House GOPer Says He Came Around On Obamacare Repeal

Bryan Bennett/Kalamazoo Gazette-MLive Media Group

If House Republicans ultimately pass their beleaguered Obamacare repeal bill this week, they’ll have Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) to thank for an amendment he has pushed that is set to be unveiled Wednesday.

In a 10-minute conversation with reporters Wednesday afternoon, Upton was a little wobbly on the specifics of the amendment and exactly when he decided that it would be enough to change his mind on the legislation.

Only a day ago, Upton, a former chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee, came out publicly as a “no” on the American Health Care Act as it then stood, citing its weakening of protections for those with pre-existing conditions. His opposition at the time was considered to be a potential canary in the coal mine for a larger revolt against the bill. Moderates had been spooked after the legislation was amended last week to allow states to opt out of certain Affordable Care insurer mandates, including requirements that banned insurers for upping premiums based on one’s health status.

But by early Wednesday morning, multiple news outlets were reporting that Upton was proposing an amendment to provide more funding for coverage of those with pre-existing conditions and would soon be heading to the White House to meet with the president. The amendment would not just win Upton’s vote, according to various reports, but bring other undecided members on board with the legislation.

The actual text of the amendment was still not public through most of the Wednesday. Hours after his White House meeting, just before he said the legislative language would be unveiled, Upton was still vague on how exactly the mechanics of it would work.

“It’s a pretty simple amendment,” Upton told reporters, adding that it would be filed very soon.

“What it in essence does is it takes $8 billion, in essence, new money, for five years—a billion, a billion, and the last three years, two billion each—and it’s provided to the risk pools to those states that have sought successfully a waiver to deal with their future,” Upton said.

He said it would be used “to buy down the premiums that otherwise would be charged.”

“Now is it enough money? I don’t know,” he said.

He said he settled on the $8 billion over 5 years—which outside experts have already said was not enough—after GOP leadership staff informed him that they thought $5 billion would be sufficient.

“I asked, ‘Is this going to get it covered’ and the answer was ‘yes,’ so that’s what I need,” he said.

That number was based on the assumption that not many states would seek the waivers, Upton said, adding that his own governor had told him Michigan wouldn’t opt out of the ACA regulations.

“If it’s not [enough], ultimately— and at some point this will be scored by CBO, we’ll have a better idea, not likely until it’s in the Senate or about then—a number of us will seek more money,” Upton said.

Asked what would happen if more states than anticipated took the waivers and whether they would be incentivized to access the additional funding, Upton did not provide a clear answer.

“We’ll see, and remember, we’ve got a lot of steps. This has to pass on the floor, it’s going to change we know in the Senate, what does the final version going to look like? There will be a lot opportunity to ask a lot of questions,” he said.

He also seemed uncertain on whether the funding would be available through high-risk pools provided by the states, when a reporter asked him that question specifically.

“It will be the individual market for the states that sought a waiver,” Upton said. A reporter followed up again about exactly how it would be administered.

“You should call the press shop to find out specifics. We don’t define that …” he said.

Upton’s timeline on his full reversal was also a little confusing.

“We developed the policy, not the specific language, Monday night,” in a meeting with various key Republicans, Upton said. They discussed “my concerns about pre-existing [conditions],” and what he “would like to see happen.”

“I outlined where I thought we needed to go on pre-existing [conditions] to get me to be there,” Upton said, “And it was written up, and I saw it yesterday and we filled in the numbers: $8 billion over five years.”

Then why did Upton come out as a no Tuesday, if he was already starting to have these conversation?

“Well, I didn’t have any idea that it would be accepted,” Upton said, adding that he was responding to a question in a live radio interview and was speaking to the bill as it was presented last week.

Upton also said President Trump called him at about 4 p.m. Tuesday and had a conversation in which the lawmaker told him he wouldn’t support last week’s version of the bill. According to Upton, Trump later Tuesday evening talked to Rep. Billy Long (R-MO), another prominent defector who now supports the legislation due to Upton’s amendment.

“Billy said … ‘you ought to have Upton and me come down and walk through what we’re trying to do to help on pre-existing illnesses,’” Upton said.

Trump agreed and they traveled to the White House Wednesday morning, from where they announced they were now supporting the bill with the new changes.

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