New House push arises to ax health act

WASHINGTON -- Hard-line conservatives began an uphill fight Friday to force a fresh House vote this fall on erasing much of President Barack Obama's health care law without an immediate replacement.

The effort by the House Freedom Caucus appears to have no chance of passing Congress. The GOP-led Senate turned down a similar repeal-only bill last month, and top House Republicans have shown little interest in re-fighting a health care battle they were able to put aside after their chamber approved legislation in May.

With the party's repeal effort collapsing last month in the Senate, the push gives lawmakers a chance to show conservative voters they've not surrendered. It also provides a chance to call attention to Republicans who've pledged to tear down Obama's law but haven't voted to do so with Donald Trump in the White House.

"It's not about calling out anyone, it's about doing what we said," said Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a Freedom Caucus leader. "And I do think people deserve to see if their member of Congress is going to do what they campaigned on."

[INTERACTIVE: Compare House, Senate bills with Affordable Care Act]

The conservatives filed a petition Friday calling for a House vote on dismantling Obama's law that would not take effect until January 2019. They say that would give Congress time to enact a replacement and pressure Democrats to cooperate, a premise Democrats who oppose the repeal effort reject.

To force a House vote, conservatives need signatures of 218 lawmakers, a majority. But many GOP moderates oppose annulling the law popularly called Obamacare without a replacement they'd support, and all Democrats are opposed.

Asked how Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., views the conservatives' push, spokesman AshLee Strong said, "The House has already passed a plan to repeal and replace Obamacare."

This week has also featured an extraordinary series of criticisms by Trump against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., over the Senate crash of the health care drive.

After tweeting his complaints against McConnell, Trump fueled conservatives' calls for McConnell to resign if he can't push health care, tax and infrastructure legislation through his chamber. McConnell had said Trump had "excessive expectations" about how quickly Congress could pass complicated bills.

Separately Friday, health insurer Anthem announced that it would pull out of the Affordable Care Act marketplace in Virginia -- the latest company to scale back its participation in an insurance market that has been destabilized by uncertainty about the future and pronouncements by Trump that it is doomed to fail.

In a statement, the company said the business of selling insurance to individuals "remains volatile" and cited "continual changes and uncertainty in federal operations, rules and guidance."

Virginia insurance commissioner Jacqueline Cunningham in a statement called the news "unwelcome."

"Anthem HealthKeepers currently covers approximately 206,000 people in Virginia's individual health insurance market," Cunningham said.

The departure will leave five insurers in the state's marketplaces for next year, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Trump has been threatening for months to stop paying federal subsidies called cost-sharing reductions that insurers have said are crucial to the functioning of the marketplaces. Those payments are projected to amount to $7 billion this year and $10 billion next year. Anthem said the lack of clarity on federal cost-sharing reduction subsidies and the return of a tax on insurance coverage played a role in its decision.

"As a result, the continued uncertainty makes it difficult for us to offer individual health plans statewide in Virginia," Anthem's statement said, announcing it would leave the marketplaces, where people can buy insurance plans with the help of federal subsidies.

Anthem joins two other major insurers that have left the Virginia marketplaces for 2018: UnitedHealthcare and Aetna.

Information for this article was contributed by Alan Fram of The Associated Press and by Carolyn Y. Johnson of The Washington Post.

A Section on 08/12/2017

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