Burlington County Times

House Leaders Announce Thursday Vote On Health Care Bill, MacArthur Amendment

Burlington County Times — May 4, 2017

By David Levinsky, staff writer

Republican leaders are bringing their party's health care bill back for a vote Thursday, saying they are now confident there is enough support to clear the House of Representatives.

The announcement that the party was ready to vote on the legislation, including a controversial amendment authored by New Jersey Congressman Tom MacArthur, was made late Wednesday by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy following a day of whipping votes and personal arm-twisting by President Donald Trump.

The House also voted Wednesday to approve a separate $1 trillion-plus spending bill to fund the government through October.

As he announced that the vote would go forward, McCarthy was asked if leaders were confident they had the votes, and he replied: "Yes."

House leaders previously said they would not hold a vote until they were certain there was enough support to pass the legislation, following an embarrassing setback in March, when a scheduled vote was scuttled because of opposition from Republican moderates and conservatives.

All 193 Democrats in the House are expected to vote no, which means Republicans can afford only 21 defections.

Proponents of the effort to repeal and replace the previous administration's Affordable Care Act were buoyed by Wednesday morning's announcement that two moderate Republicans, Reps. Fred Upton of Michigan and Billy Long of Missouri, who had been holdouts against the legislation, were willing to vote in favor of the bill, thanks to an agreement to add $8 billion to help people with pre-existing medical conditions obtain insurance.

"Today, we're here announcing that with this addition that we brought to the president and sold him on in over an hour meeting in here with him, that we're both yeses on the bill," Long told reporters.

The potential defections of Upton and Long over the previous 48 hours had emerged as a possible death knell for the bill, and with it seven years' worth of GOP campaign promises to repeal and replace Democratic President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act.

"We need you, we need you, we need you," Long described as the message from a president eager for a win, after spending more than 100 days in office without a single substantive congressional accomplishment, save the Senate confirmation of a Supreme Court justice.

Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi saw more of an acting job than a true change of heart.

Upton "has always been a yes," Pelosi said. "People will say, 'I am a no,' and give me some fake reason to make it look like the bill is better."

New Jersey Congressman Tom MacArthur, R-3rd of Toms River, who authored a key amendment that is credited with reviving the health care overhaul, remained the only member of New Jersey's congressional delegation to voice support of the bill.

Republicans Leonard Lance, R-7th of Clinton; Frank LoBiondo, R-2nd of Ventnor; and Chris Smith, R-4th of Robbinsville, remain opposed. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-11 of Harding, has not specified how he would vote on the latest incarnation of the reform bill, known as the American Health Care Act.

MacArthur's amendment breathed new life into the effort by appeasing members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, who previously opposed the legislation because it did not end many of the ACA's insurance requirements and standards, claiming they make premiums rise and make insurance unaffordable for almost everyone.

The amendment makes clear that insurers cannot refuse to cover people because of any pre-existing health conditions. However, it does allow states to seek federal waivers from some of the ACA's rules and requirements, including its "community rating" rule, which prevents insurers from charging higher premiums based on consumers' health status. Doing so is expected to cause premiums for younger and healthier people to drop.

A condition for the waiver is that states must agree to create their own "high-risk pool," or participate in a federal risk pool to help sick people obtain affordable coverage. But critics have said the pools aren't likely to protect millions of people with pre-existing conditions from being charged more for less coverage.

MacArthur, who spent 30 years as an insurance executive before his election to Congress in 2014, has pointed to the billions in federal dollars that were added to the legislation to aid both sick consumers and other vulnerable populations, and his spokeswoman said he backs the additional $8 billion for risk pools.

"Congressman MacArthur worked to see that $165 billion was there to support the most vulnerable in the community," said Camille Gallo, communications director. "This additional money will offer even more protections, and Congressman MacArthur is always encouraged to see more of his colleagues support meaningful reform to our health care system."

The second-term congressman's work on the issue continued to draw fire both in Washington and at home, as opponents of the health care bill lashed out, saying the additional money would not be enough to adequately protect people with pre-existing conditions.

Save My Care, a liberal group that has paid for television ads attacking MacArthur for his leadership role on the overhaul, announced Wednesday that it was releasing a new web video highlighting opposition to his amendment from fellow GOP members, including members of the centrist Tuesday Group caucus that MacArthur co-chairs.

The Hill, a Washington-based online publication, reported Wednesday that some members of the caucus were seeking MacArthur's resignation from his leadership post for negotiating the amendment, but no change was announced.

Meanwhile, several faith leaders held a news conference outside MacArthur's district office in Evesham to call on him to reverse his position and fight to save the Affordable Care Act.

"We cannot go back to the days when the emergency room served as the primary health care provider for the poor. People of faith must push back against policies that do not prioritize people over profits," said Charles Boyer, pastor of the Bethel AME Church in Woodbury. "As a Christian, this issue speaks with vivid relevance. Jesus did not put people with pre-existing conditions in higher-risk pools. He embraced them first."

Also among the participants were Anne Matlack, a member of the Moorestown Friends Meeting; the Rev. Darrell Armstrong, pastor of the Shiloh Baptist Church in Trenton; and Rabbi Benjamin David, of Congregation Adath Emanu-El in Mount Laurel.

New Jersey Citizen Action leader Maura Collinsgru and several people who previously protested against the ACA repeal also attended.

The group members cited the projected loss of insurance by 24 million Americans if the health care overhaul bill becomes law, and said they were moved to speak out in defense of the poor, sick and elderly.

"My mandate is crystal clear. God commands me to care for the sick, and he commands others to as well," David said during the event, which also featured a group prayer.

Car alarms from vehicles parked outside the office sounded several times during the opponents' remarks. Some opponents said they believed it was done intentionally to disrupt the event.

Armstrong called the horns a "call to worship and a call to action."

"Whether it's intentional or not, I'm glad the horn is blowing," he said.

In a statement, Gallo called out New Jersey Citizen Action, saying the group was spreading misinformation and engaging in "dishonest tactics."

"Congressman MacArthur has been at the forefront of reforming our broken health care system because the current system is on the brink of collapse. His efforts will lower health care costs and protect those with pre-existing conditions, while providing real tax relief for middle-class families," Gallo said.

"It is no surprise that New Jersey Citizen Action — a liberal, big-money special interest group — is intentionally peddling misinformation and engaging in dishonest tactics geared towards garnering press attention, instead of having substantive policy conversations that would result in real solutions to the big problems our nation is facing."

MacArthur is scheduled to hold a town hall meeting May 10 at the Kennedy Center in Willingboro.

This story contains information from The Associated Press.

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