Pa. and N.J. GOP lawmakers not all on board with Obamacare replacement bill

     House Speaker Paul Ryan, U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello, R-Pennsylvania, right, and Scott Johnson, center, owner of J-Tech tour the company in Chester Springs in October. (AP Photo/Alan Fram)

    House Speaker Paul Ryan, U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello, R-Pennsylvania, right, and Scott Johnson, center, owner of J-Tech tour the company in Chester Springs in October. (AP Photo/Alan Fram)

    Republican lawmakers from Pennsylvania and New Jersey are not unified behind the GOP plan to replace the Affordable Care Act.

    Nonpartisan analysts project that 14 million people would lose coverage next year under the House bill dismantling former President Barack Obama’s health care law. Monday’s estimate by the Congressional Budget Office said the number of uninsured would grow to 24 million by 2026.

    And despite the uproar from Democrats over the proposal to eventually end the Obamacare Medicaid expansion and to cut taxes for health care CEOs, Republicans eventually passed their new health plan through two committees last week.

    It first went through the tax-writing committee and then slowed down in a more than 27-hour markup in the House Commerce Committee. Committee member Rep. Ryan Costello, R-Pennsylvania, said the all-nighter was no big deal, even without sleep.

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    “But it’s one of those things where — because you’re in the middle of something major — you don’t really think about that,” Costello said.

    Now the bad news for the GOP: Even Republicans are complaining that the bill is rushed. Take Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, who bemoaned that Costello and other Republicans voted for the bill in committee without waiting for data on the bill — known as a “score” — that the Congressional Budget Office released Monday.

    “It’s kind of crazy they’re voting without a score, Cassidy said.

    Costello, who represents parts of several counties west of Philadelphia, brushed aside those complaints.

    “You’re going to see that before this bill gets to the House floor, that’s going to happen,” he said.

    The GOP bill reimagines the Affordable Care Act, Costello said, insuring that people who lose coverage are able to get back into the health care marketplace with the help of tax breaks.

    “We want to create a paradigm that enables those, as they come off Medicaid expansion, that we have an advanceable tax-credit system in place so that they can have access to affordable health care,” he said.

    But the bills have hit a roadblock. Central Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Scott Perry is a member of the House Freedom Caucus — a tea party-aligned bloc of more than 30 conservatives threatening to derail the entire GOP replacement. The coalition has said it withhold support unless party leaders do an outright repeal before offering a replacement.

    “We need to have an alternative at the same time that we do the repeal,” Perry said. “We told the people we ran on repealing it. If people are angry about it, people can’t afford it — and they expect results, and we ought to give it to them.”

    Perry and others in the group don’t like that Republican leaders want to turn those substantial Obamacare subsidies into smaller, GOP-approved tax credits. He said that sounds like a new entitlement program.

    “It sure seems like one to me,” he said. “It sure seems like one.”

    Rep. Tom MacArthur from South Jersey disagreed with calling the tax credits a new entitlement program, but he doesn’t want to get into parsing words with his fellow Republicans.

    “Everyone’s got their own words for describing things,” he said. “The federal government has a role to play in making sure that people in America have affordable health care.”

    New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie did opt to expand Medicaid under Obamacare despite some criticisms of the plan.

    MacArthur, who called himself more moderate on health care than many in his party, said the latest proposal may have won him over.

    “But let’s be honest, the focal point of the bill is on the 20 million people that are either in Medicaid expansion or in the [Affordable Care Act] marketplace, and that’s, I think, where it’s moved in a better direction,” he said. “Don’t forget a month ago, the talk was of cutting that off in two years. Which I could not have supported.”

    The battle among lawmakers in this region is just a microcosm of the national war over the future of health care insurance. Some lawmakers have said their constituents are clamoring for an end to the burden of Obamacare. Others said they’re getting calls and emails begging them to keep the health care policy in place.

    And once the bill clears the House, things could get even more unpredictable in the Senate.

    The Associated Press contrinuted to this report.

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