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House GOP tacks $8 billion onto Obamacare repeal to help cover pre-existing conditions -- and win votes

House Republicans have once again revived their plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, this time hoping to win back centrist lawmakers with a new amendment to pump in more money to offset insurance costs for those with pre-existing health conditions.

The latest $8 billion fix emerged Wednesday after key Republican defectors took their concerns directly to President Trump at the White House.

Two lawmakers, Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Rep. Billy Long (R-Mo.) -- both of whom had recently and abruptly announced their opposition -- reversed course after the hour-long meeting, saying they could now back the bill. Their support could bring other centrists on board.

"With this addition that we brought to the president, sold him on, an hour-long meeting, we're both 'yeses' on the bill," Long told reporters afterward at the White House.

It is unclear if the high-profile fix will be enough to nudge other reluctant lawmakers to endorse the measure.

House Speaker Paul Ryan can lose no more than about 22 votes, in the face of opposition from Democrats, and the bill has been teetering on collapse amid pressure to vote by Thursday, before lawmakers break for week-long recess.

Rank-and-file Republicans have become increasingly worried that changes made to the original bill, the American Health Care Act, to win over the conservative Freedom Caucus will repeal too many popular parts of Obamacare -- namely, its ban on insurers denying coverage or charging high prices for those with pre-existing conditions.

Ryan tamped down expectations for a vote soon but said talks are progressing.

"We’re getting extremely close," he told radio host Hugh Hewitt on Wednesday. "We’re having very, very productive conversations with our members. The president’s having good conversations with our members."

But facing the prospect of not being able to amass the votes, lawmakers have begun analyzing their long road to repealing the Affordable Care Act, and wondering what they could have done better to fulfill their campaign promises.

Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.), who brokered the earlier amendment with the Freedom Caucus to allow states to waive the Obamacare requirement that insurers cover pre-existing conditions, doubted extra money at this point could win votes.

Leaders already tacked on $15 billion in extra money for the risk pools during an earlier amendment negotiation.

"The question is more fundamental with people: Are they comfortable with this balance – this is best way to protect the vulnerable and cut expenses?" he said late Tuesday. "If they're not, you can throw billions here and billions there, it’s probably not going to move them. I don’t  think money is the answer now."

Under the emerging amendment from Upton and Long, an additional $8 billion would be provided over five years to help high-risk insurance plans in states that receive waivers under the MacArthur amendment reduce premiums or other out-of-pocket costs for individuals with pre-existing conditions who have a gap in their insurance coverage.

The proposal addresses a consistent criticism that these plans were historically underfunded and could never meet the demand for coverage from sick people who could not get commercial insurance on their own.

But it was quickly dismissed as inadequate by many healthcare experts and advocates for patients.

“This is like building a bridge less than one-quarter of the way across a river,” former Families USA director and longtime patient advocate Ron Pollack noted in a tweet. “Anyone driving a car to the other side will still drown!”

Democrats also panned the approach. 

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (R-N.Y.) said the proposal "is like administering cough medicine to someone with stage 4 cancer."

He added: "This Republican amendment leaves Americans with pre-existing conditions as vulnerable as they were before under this bill. High-risk pools are the real death panels: they mean waiting forever in line for unaffordable health insurance.”

And Republicans who already oppose their party's healthcare overhaul as insufficient in repealing and replacing Obamacare said leaders were desperate to pass the bill and move on.

"The AHCA is like a kidney stone -- the House doesn't care what happens to it, as long as they can pass it," tweeted Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), who is opposed. 

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