U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais speaks in support of crafting legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare.
WASHINGTON – Rep. Scott DesJarlais would still prefer to see a total repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
But for now, he’ll settle for leaving parts of the seven-year-old law intact and replacing other parts with reforms he thinks will make health insurance more affordable.
“My number one priority has been to improve affordability, access and quality health care for my constituents,” said the South Pittsburg Republican, who announced his support last week for the latest House GOP proposal to replace parts of former President Barack Obama’s signature health care law.
DesJarlais’ support is noteworthy because the last time the GOP put forth a plan to repeal and replace Obamacare, he was not on board.
Opposition from DesJarlais and other hardline conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus helped sink that proposal. At the last minute, House Speaker Paul Ryan canceled a vote in March after failing to corral enough members of his own party to pass the bill.
Now, a revised version of that shelved bill is on the table and has the backing of the Freedom Caucus, including DesJarlais. The House could vote on the updated proposal this week.
The new language — negotiated by Freedom Caucus chairman Mark Meadows, R-N.C., and New Jersey Rep. Tom MacArthur, who chairs a moderate group of Republicans — preserves some of the popular mandates of Obamacare, such as requiring that insurers cover maternity care and emergency room visits.
But it also addresses the concerns of DesJarlais and some other conservatives that the original version did not go far enough in repealing Obamacare’s mandates on the coverage insurers are required to provide.
The revised bill gives states the option to apply for waivers that would get rid of the minimum insurance requirements. States would be granted a waiver if they can prove doing so would reduce premiums, increase the number of people who receive coverage, stabilize the market or increase competition.
The new language “basically achieved what I had promised my constituency in terms of repeal, where the prior legislation fell short,” said DesJarlais, a physician who was elected to Congress in 2010 on the promise of repealing and replacing Obamacare.
It’s still not clear whether Republicans will be able to coalesce and pass the updated proposal. On Friday, the GOP still didn’t have the votes needed to approve the bill, but the new language moved them closer to the finish line.
If the bill is approved, DesJarlais predicts it would bring competition back to the insurance market in Tennessee, where premiums have skyrocketed as insurers have fled the state.
One reason he’s confident: Insurers would still be required to sell policies to people with pre-existing conditions but could charge them higher premiums. The revised legislation provides money for high-risk pools to help lower costs for people with pre-existing conditions.
“In other words,” DesJarlais said, “sick people will have protections in place, healthy people will once again enjoy lower premiums. Under the status quo, they are all thrown into the same risk pool, and costs have gone up for average, healthy citizens.”
DesJarlais would like to see other reforms that are not included in the GOP plan, such as allowing insurers to sell policies across state lines and lowering prescription drug costs. But Congress can deal with those issues later, he said.
For now, he said, the focus is getting Republicans who are still on the fence to support the updated legislation. He senses that many of them will.
“They understand how far we’ve come,” he said. “They see that this is a better bill and that acting on this sooner or later would be the best course of action.”
Michael Collins is the Washington correspondent for the USA Today Network-Tennessee. His weekly Tennessee in D.C. column highlights Volunteer State lawmakers, causes and connections. Contact him at 703-854-8927, at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @mcollinsNEWS.
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