Republicans consider Ted Cruz proposal to revive Senate health care bill
(CNN) — Senate Republican leaders are considering an amendment from conservative GOP Sen. Ted Cruz to help revive a health care bill that currently lacks enough Republican support to pass — a move that risks alienating moderates in the party.
Senate legislation to overhaul Obamacare that was unveiled last month — together with the Cruz amendment — was submitted to the Congressional Budget Office late last week for an updated score, according to a GOP aide. The amendment would allow insurers that offer Obamacare policies to also offer cheaper, stripped-down policies unregulated by the law.
The decision to send Cruz’s proposal to the CBO indicates that leadership is considering the idea seriously enough to have it analyzed for its impact on consumers and the federal budget. However, it does not mean that the amendment will end up in the final bill, or that it will help Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell get the 50 “yes” votes he needs to move the legislation through his chamber.
There are currently at least 10 Senate Republicans who have publicly opposed the initial draft of the bill. With 52 Republicans in the Senate, McConnell would have to win over most of those “no” votes.
A McConnell spokesman on Thursday would not comment on what, if any, potential revisions to the health care bill have been submitted to the CBO, but noted that discussions are continuing during recess between leadership and rank-and-file members, as well as with the CBO.
The proposal could help win over a handful of conservatives who are currently opposed to the bill because they believe it doesn’t go far enough in gutting Obamacare. Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, for example, would support the Senate health care bill if it included the Cruz amendment, an aide to Lee told CNN on Thursday.
The idea has also won the approval of Rep. Mark Meadows, the chairman of the conservative Freedom Caucus in the House, who tweeted Thursday: “When you create competition allowing people to make the best choices for themselves–prices go down. @SenTedCruz’s amendment would do that.”
A provision that would allow greater flexibility on how health savings accounts can be used — another idea favored by conservatives — was also sent to the CBO late last week, according to a GOP aide.
But the Cruz amendment could also isolate other more moderate senators in the conference, who already have deep reservations about the bill, including how it might negatively impact patients with pre-existing conditions.
The senator’s amendment proposes allowing some insurers to offer plans that don’t adhere to all Obamacare protections, meaning they could offer less comprehensive policies at a cheaper price. While this idea is appealing to conservatives who are dead-set on lowering premiums, it is worrisome to others who believe it could weaken consumer protections and hurt those who have medical histories.
“I think there’s very little interest in the caucus in touching pre-existing conditions, so I have a hard time seeing the addition of the ‘Consumer Choice Amendment,'” said one GOP Senate aide, referencing the formal name of Cruz’s amendment. “And outside health policy folks have said that would set up a death spiral for the markets.”
Supporters of the Cruz amendment argue that the so-called “stabilization funds” and federal subsidies would help ensure that premiums don’t spike for individuals who are seriously ill.
Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York seized on fresh comments by McConnell at an event Thursday in Kentucky where the GOP leader said if Republicans are unable to pass an Obamacare repeal and replace bill, legislation to deal with the struggling private health insurance markets must be considered.
“It’s encouraging that Sen. McConnell today acknowledged that the issues with the exchanges are fixable, and opened the door to bipartisan solutions to improve our health care system,” Schumer said in a statement. “As we’ve said time and time again, Democrats are eager to work with Republicans to stabilize the markets and improve the law. At the top of the list should be ensuring cost sharing payments are permanent, which will protect health care for millions.”
McConnell aides said the senator had merely reiterated a sentiment he first expressed last week at a news conference outside the White House. They also noted that efforts are still underway to pass a health care overhaul bill and that it is premature to assume other legislative steps will be necessary.