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Head of House Freedom Caucus says GOP needs 30 to 40 votes more to pass Obamacare replacement

Republican leaders need to flip "another 30 to 40 votes" in the House to get the Obamacare replacement bill passed, said the head of the GOP conservative group whose opposition to the bill led lawmakers to postpone a Thursday vote.

Freedom Caucus Chairman Rep. Mark Meadows, R-NC, also said that members of his strongly conservative group want evidence that "this bill reduces premiums significantly enough" before they are willing to back the plan.

"At this point, some of the provisions here do not lower health-care costs enough ... for my constituents," Meadows said. "We've got to make sure it lowers health costs."

"I'm still a 'no' at this time," Meadows told a throng of reporters on Capitol Hill after House leaders postponed Thursday's scheduled vote. "I am desperately trying to get to yes."

"And I can say, with all the Freedom Caucus, they are trying to get to yes."

But Meadows also said "I believe progress is being made," and credited President Donald Trump with talking to caucus members about potential changes to the bill.

"The president's engagement is unparalleled," Meadows said. "The president has made some very good-faith gestures."

Still, Meadows would not discuss the "specifics" of negotiation with the president.

The House of Representatives had planned on voting Thursday on the American Health Care Act. But GOP leaders postponed that vote after it became clear that not enough of the 237-member caucus agreed with the plan to provide the 215 votes it would need to pass, and send it to the Senate for further consideration.

Trump and Republican congressional leaders have repeatedly met with House conservatives and amended the bill in an effort to sway them to support the bill. Those changes included speeding up the revocation of Obamacare taxes, and permitting tighter restrictions of Medicaid eligibility.

But a number of conservatives have continued to object to the plan because they believe it does not do enough to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and replace it with legislation that will decrease federal involvement in health care.

GOP leaders face a difficult problem in their dealing with the conservative wing of their party. For every concession they give that wing, they risk alienating moderate members of the party, who are already worried about projections that show millions of people losing health coverage in coming years as a result of the bill becoming law.

Andy Slavitt, who oversaw Obamacare for the Obama administration until January, said Thursday that he wasn't surprised that the House postponed the vote.

"They don't have the votes to pass a bill that spikes premiums, cuts coverage, raise deductibles and guts benefits?" snarkily asked Slavitt, who had been acting administrator for the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

"I'm disappointed that they even has as many votes as they apparently do," Slavitt said.