Key GOP senator: House may change bill after CBO projected hikes for seniors

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 10: House Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) speaks about the American Health Care Act bill that is being debated on Capitol Hill, on March 10, 2017 in Washington, DC. Also pictured are, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, (R-CA)(R), and House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX)(L), (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
President Trump, flanked by Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, left, and Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., at a White House meeting on health care March 10. (Photo: Evan Vucci/AP)

WASHINGTON — House Republicans apparently told antsy senators in a closed-door meeting Tuesday they may try to amend their health care bill to address concerns that it would significantly increase costs for seniors.

Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., told reporters after the meeting that Reps. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, and Greg Walden, R-Ore., chairmen of the powerful Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce Committees, said they realized the legislation’s projected premium hikes for older Americans was an issue that must be addressed.

“They did seem to express sympathy for that 60-year-old who currently is making $20,000 a year” who would face big premium hikes, Cassidy said. “They did not give specifics of how to address that, but they did acknowledge that that was an issue to be addressed.”

The concession came a day after the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released a report projecting the GOP legislation would result in 24 million people losing health care coverage by 2026. The report seems to have increased distaste for the legislation in the Senate, where at least seven Republicans have expressed concerns about the health care overhaul since the House unveiled it early last week.

Monday’s CBO report predicted that older Americans in the individual market would see their premium costs soar if the bill passes. A 64-year-old making $26,500 a year would pay $14,600 per year to buy insurance on the individual market under the Republican health care plan, the CBO projected. That’s more than seven times as much as he or she would pay under the current law.

Cassidy, a physician and one of a handful of Republican senators who have raised concerns about the bill’s effects even before the CBO report, said he’s waiting to see the final legislation before deciding whether to support it or not. The Louisiana lawmaker introduced his own bill to replace Obamacare alongside Republican Sens. Susan Collins, Johnny Isakson and Shelley Moore Capito.

“The chairmen spoke of trying to amend it to address concerns,” Cassidy said. “I reserve judgment until I see the bill that comes over.”

Republican Sens. Pat Roberts of Kansas and Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma also expressed concerns about costs for seniors, CNN reported. “I don’t think it’s right” that seniors will be charged more, Inhofe said.

Spokesmen for Walden and Brady did not immediately return requests for comment on what measures they were considering to address the issue. Any changes to the House bill would likely face resistance from the conservative House Freedom Caucus, which has called it “Obamacare Lite” and casts the legislation’s age-based tax credits as a new entitlement. That group has called for a speedier winding down of federal Medicaid expansion funds to states and changes to the tax credits.

The powerful AARP came out against the legislation last week, citing higher costs for seniors. The group’s executive vice president, Nancy LeaMond, reiterated her concerns Tuesday on Twitter.

Democrats have seized on the health care plan’s effect on seniors in attacking the GOP plan. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., spoke against the bill next to a giant piece of posterboard on the Senate floor Wednesday with “Senior Tax” written on it. Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania estimated cost hikes for 50- to 64-year-olds in each of his state’s counties on Twitter using the hashtag “#noagetax.”

In a press conference after the conference meeting, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the replace bill will go forward because the “status quo is unsustainable.” He defended the legislation from the CBO’s prediction that millions would lose coverage under it and said he believed premiums would be lower than the office estimated. “It’s pretty hard to predict coverage when the government stops telling you to buy something you don’t want,” McConnell said.

The Senate leader said the health care bill would be open to amendments from senators if it passes the House.

The House Budget Committee will mark up the legislation Thursday before it goes to the floor for a vote.

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