WASHINGTON Top aides to President Donald Trump on Monday predicted the House of Representatives would move this week to overhaul the U.S. healthcare system, though Republicans remained divided on how to protect sick Americans from insurance price hikes.
The White House is eager to move forward on legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare, to make good on a key campaign promise. Republicans tried but failed to pass a replacement bill in March in an embarrassing setback for the Trump Administration.
Lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow states to opt out of Obamacare protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions - provisions that force insurers to charge sick people and healthy people the same rates. It was unclear when or if a vote would be scheduled.
Trump told Fox News Channel that he would not set a deadline for the vote, and indicated he was open to improvements. "We’re either going to have a great plan or I’m not signing it," he said in the interview.
In a separate interview with Bloomberg News, Trump insisted that the new bill would maintain protections for pre-existing conditions.
"I want it to be good for sick people. It’s not in its final form right now," he told Bloomberg. "It will be every bit as good on pre-existing conditions as Obamacare."
Ten major patient advocacy groups said they opposed the reworked healthcare bill, including the American Heart Association and American Diabetes Association.
Other major medical groups such as the American Medical Association have also expressed concerns over coverage losses and unaffordable insurance for those with pre-existing conditions.
Republican lawmakers have struggled to unite around legislation, with moderates and conservatives within the caucus divided over key provisions.
Once a plan passes the Republican-controlled House, it is expected to face a tough fight in the Senate, where Republicans have a narrower majority and where some party senators have expressed misgivings about the House bill.
White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and White House economic adviser Gary Cohn on Monday said in separate interviews with CBS' "This Morning" that they thought there were enough votes to pass the bill this week.
House Republican leaders were more cautious. As of Monday afternoon, no vote had been scheduled and backers of the healthcare proposal had not released legislative language.
Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, chair of the House Republican conference, said Republican members needed time to understand new tweaks to the bill.
"We are having those member-to-members conversations right now," McMorris Rodgers told Fox News.
Vice President Mike Pence made his way to Capitol Hill late on Monday to make the case to members who are on the fence, a Republican aide said on condition of anonymity, noting leaders are believed to be within five or six votes of having enough support to pass the bill.
The Freedom Caucus, which brought down the previous effort to pass a healthcare bill, has endorsed the new measure. The Republican aide told Reuters all but one or two members of the group will support the reworked plan.
"This bill doesn’t get all the way there but it’s a good step and is ... the best we can get out of the House right now," Representative Jim Jordan, chairman of the group, told CNN.
But several moderate Republicans were either undecided or opposed the bill for fear that it would not protect those with pre-existing conditions and cause millions to lose health insurance.
Representative Charlie Dent, a moderate Republican from Pennsylvania, said he still had problems with the latest plan and suspected there were not enough votes to pass it.
"Too many Americans are going to be without coverage," Dent told MSNBC, adding that the plan could make things even worse for vulnerable Americans.
(Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu and Mark Hosenball; Writing by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Caren Bohan and Dan Grebler)