Senator Apologizes After Joke About Losing His Mammograms In GOP Bill

Ron Sachs/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

Updated at 2 p.m. ET

As the House struggles to agree on a path forward on its bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, GOP leaders may cave to a demand from hardline conservatives to scrap Obamacare’s Essential Health Benefits rule—the mandate that insurance plans cover things like hospitalizations, prescription drugs, mental health and maternity care.

TPM asked Republicans on the other side of the Capitol about whether such a move would fly in the Senate.

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), when asked if he supports scrapping EHBs, deadpanned: “I sure don’t want my mammogram benefits taken away.”

Roberts’ comments provoked immediate reaction from some Democratic congresswomen, and Roberts soon tweeted an apology. “I deeply regret my comments on a very important topic,” Roberts tweeted. “Mammograms are essential to women’s health & I never intended to indicate otherwise.”

Mammograms, however, are not part of Essential Health Benefits. They’re mandated under a different section of Obamacare that requires insurance plans to cover women’s preventative care.

While Roberts was referring to the common Republican argument that men should not have to pay for insurance that includes services only women use, more than 2,400 men in the U.S. die every year from breast cancer.

Hardline conservatives in the House and Senate argue that gutting the EHB rule would allow companies to sell patients cheap, bare-bones plans to patients that prefer them.

“Our central focus should be driving down the cost of health insurance so that people can afford health care,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) told reporters Thursday. “In order to drive down the cost of premiums, we need to repeal the Obamacare insurance mandates.” Cruz confirmed that he wants to cut out EHBs, but would not say if he wants to go further—as some of his colleagues do—and repeal Obamacare other mandates protecting people with pre-existing conditions.

Other Senate Republicans were more critical of the proposal.

“There can be some compromise but I don’t think we should get rid of it,” Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) echoed this view, telling reporters: “We need to make sure mental health and substance abuse and certain prevention services are covered.”

Correction: This post incorrectly identified Roberts as representing Oklahoma, rather than Kansas. We regret the error.

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