While the Republicans' first attempt at repealing and replacing Obamacare is officially dead, many conservatives are celebrating a silver lining and claiming victory in the face of defeat.
The death of the American Health Care Act crafted by House Speaker Paul Ryan and backed by President Trump means it's back to the drawing board, with a clean, empty slate. The AHCA will not replace the ACA or Affordable Care Act -- commonly known as 'Obamacare.'
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"We came up short," Ryan told reporters. "We are going to be living with Obamacare for the forseeable future."
Democrats are crowing.
"This is a huge victory -- grassroots Democrats like you made hundreds of thousands of calls and signed petitions to oppose this bill, and House Republicans buckled under the pressure," stated the DNC Rapid Response email titled "Hands off Obamacare!"
CNN cited three GOP congressmen who said Ryan told them they are "moving on" from health care and that Trump said tax reform would be next.
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CNN went on to frame the story as "an acute embarrassment for Trump."
But some conservatives are saying, not so fast. This could be a blessing, they say, especially if it forces the Republicans to rethink their entire approach to health care.
Charles Steele, associate professor of economics at Hillsdale College in Hillsdale, Michigan, said the GOP must do better in its effort to reform health care. And now it has the chance.
Why health-care costs continue to skyrocket
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One of the main drivers of increasing health care costs is insurance, Steele said.
"Having all purchases of health care handled through insurance means patients have no way to make decisions about the benefits and costs of care, and no way to shop for good deals in health care," Steele said.
When patients give up their power of negotiation in purchasing health care and are forced to hand over that power to large corporations, prices will inevitably soar, Steele said.
"Decision making must be returned to the patient, on a free market for health care services," he said. "This cannot happen under schemes like ACA and AHCA, and requires that the Republicans rethink the entire approach to reform."
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“One thing that I find disturbing is that the Republican leadership seems more beholden to the Senate filibuster rule than to the liberty of the American people, the Constitution, or the quality and affordability of our health care," Steele added. "The Democrats are behaving as complete obstructionists, and should they return to power with the basic framework of Obamacare in place, they’ll use it to take us all the way to fully socialized medicine."
The Republicans should simply acknowledge this and get to work dismantling government intervention in health care, he said.
House Freedom Caucus flexes its muscle
The House Freedom Caucus proved itself a formidable partner in negotiations on behalf of American patients eager for true health care reform, said Michael Hamilton, research fellow at the Heartland Institute and managing editor of Health Care News.
“Don’t buy the false narrative that conservative members of Congress have held up reform," Hamilton said. "Keeping Obamacare’s regulatory structure was never on the table for conservatives. It’s time for Speaker Ryan to accept that conservatives won’t settle for watered-down health-care reforms, even if that means repealing and replacing Obamacare through regular order instead of budget reconciliation.”
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., was a leader in the battle against the U.S. House version of what he called "Obamacare Lite" and a continuation on the path to socialism.
Paul, a physician, said he looks forward to passing a "full repeal of Obamacare in the very near future.”
Earlier this month, Paul introduced the Obamacare Repeal Act (S. 554), which is the same legislation, with an updated timeline, to repeal major components of Obamacare that an overwhelming Republican majority sent to President Obama’s desk in January 2016.
In January, Paul introduced a free-market based Obamacare replacement bill, which empowers Americans to:
- Choose inexpensive insurance free of government dictates;
- Save unlimited amounts in a health savings account (HSA) and have wider options for using those funds;
- Buy insurance across state lines; and
- Join together in voluntary associations to gain the leverage of being part of a large insurance pool.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, was also happy with the decision to pull the the AHCA:
"We can now begin the hard and necessary process to get this right," Lee said.
“We will begin working collaboratively here in the Senate and with our friends in the House to produce a bill that will get 51 votes in the Senate and 216 in the House. The bill will reduce costs, save taxpayers money, and make our health-care system great again."
Lee said Ryan and others had to face reality Friday that they didn't have the votes in the House and were even less prepared for a vote in the Senate.
"We need an open, transparent, and deliberate process," he said. "The stakes for all Americans are simply too high for anything else."
House Freedom Caucus member Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said a full repeal of Obamacare remains one of the group's top priorities.
“The AHCA did not have the support it needed, neither in Congress nor among the American people," Jordan said. "Now, House Republicans owe it to our constituents to immediately get back to the drawing board and bring forward a bolder effort to replace the failing Obamacare with a plan to reduce costs by increasing choice and competition."
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said millions of Californians who had their insurance plans canceled, lost access to their doctors, suffered premium increases and sky-high deductible hikes are "depending on us to repeal and replace Obamacare once and for all."
"We must deliver relief from this law and return choice back to the people. However, the AHCA was an imperfect approach and I believe that we can do better. We will go back to the drawing board and get this right for each and every American concerned with high costs in their health care and ever-dwindling choices and access to care. As part of that discussion, we should consider plans, like mine, to give all Americans access the same high-quality coverage as federal employees and their families, as well as other good ideas, from both sides of the aisle, to deliver solutions to these problems."
'Please don't do this'
Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, told Neil Cauto on Fox News "this bill was going to be a problem. More federal government, more federal control is not the answer. The president gave it an incredible try on a bill that was really like he said – had some problems."
Gohmert said lawmakers' phones were definitely ringing and most of them were from constituents unhappy with the replacement bill offered by Ryan.
"People all over our conference were hearing from people at home saying that this is a disaster. ‘Please don't do this.’ There's so many noble people that were going, all right, ‘I’ll take one for the team but this is isn't a good bill," Gohmert said.
Rep. Randy Hultgren, R-Ill., said he "heard loud and clear from thousands of my constituents that they want a health-care system that is more affordable and works for them."
Hultgren said maintaining the status quo is simply unacceptable.
"Too many are paying monthly premiums higher than their mortgage," he said. "Too many Medicaid recipients who need care can't gain access to a primary care doctor. Too many only have one insurer providing one plan in their area. That is wrong."
But he said doing nothing isn't an option.
"If the answer isn't this proposal, then we must return to the drawing board, hold extensive hearings and figure out a different way forward."
Although the conservatives in the HFC won this round, it may prove a costly victory in the end if President Trump does craft a deal with Democrats that ends up repealing even less of Obamacare.
After the bill died, a Washington Post reporter asked the president on Friday if “working on a bipartisan health-care deal a year from now be something he would find more agreeable than whipping the hard right?”
"A lot of people might say that," replied the president, with a laugh. "We'll end up with a better health-care plan. A great plan. And you wouldn't need the Freedom Caucus."
Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wisc., said the defeat of the AHCA "not only represents a victory for the seniors, children, and working- and middle-class Americans who otherwise would have lost their health coverage, but for everyone who exercised their civic duty in opposing such a misguided and dangerous proposal."
“Americans from across the political divide inundated congressional offices with their messages of support for the very provisions that make the Affordable Care Act so vital including free preventive services to all women and ending insurance denials based on pre-existing conditions. Today’s extraordinary events prove that their words did not fall on deaf ears and that democracy truly works when you work it."
But the Democrat acknowledge this fight is far from over.
"I have no doubt that congressional Republicans and President Trump will stop at nothing to dismantle the progress achieved during President Obama’s tenure using the levers of the administration to undermine his landmark legislation," Moore said. "With this reality in mind, I call on every American to remain vigilant and engaged. Our lives quite literally depend on it."
Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., said that while the day's events in in Washington may be disconcerting to many Americans, this is a part of the legislative process that often happens without much attention.
"There are often lengthy debates, rescheduled votes, and amendment negotiations outside the media spotlight that the general public does not see," he said. "I want the best possible health care reform bill to pass the House, so that when we take it up in the Senate, it only needs minimal corrections. Despite the actions of today, Congress must still pursue the repeal and replacement of Obamacare to provide a smooth transition to a better health care system and better coverage options for everyone."
Lankford said Oklahoma is experiencing a one-year 76 percent individual insurance increase with only one insurer left through the federal exchange, on top of a 35 percent increase from last year.
"For something as important as health care, we must take the necessary time and get this right," he said. "Congress should help improve the health care system in a way that does no harm to current enrollees."
'Republicans must end taxpayer funded abortions'
The national pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List said it was disappointed that the bill did not advance.
SBA List president Marjorie Dannenfelser said “Republicans must follow through on their commitment to end taxpayer funding of abortion via Obamacare, to exclude it from any replacement funding vehicles, and to redirect funding for women’s health care away from the abortion giant Planned Parenthood’s to community health centers. The American Health Care Act would have fulfilled these important commitments. We look forward to working with our pro-life Congress and pro-life President on getting these commitments to the finish line with a sense of urgency. Unborn children and their mothers pay a heavy price with each day of inaction."
Community health centers outnumber Planned Parenthood facilities by at least 20 to one and offer a full range of primary health care, unlike Planned Parenthood, she said.
The proposal to redirect taxpayer funding from Planned Parenthood would result in a $422 million increase in federal funding for community health care centers, which enjoy strong bipartisan support, avoid provision or promotion of abortion, and now serve nearly 24.3 million people (and climbing) in medically underserved communities across the United States.
President Trump said he’d learned a lot about loyalty and the vote getting process, and, “For me it’s been a very interesting experience.”
The decision to pull the bill came a day after the president had given lawmakers an ultimatum that he was through negotiating and it was time to vote on the bill, as is.
At an afternoon news conference, Ryan said, “Doing big things is hard."
Some conservatives are calling for Ryan to step down as speaker.