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HHS secretary: How the GOP's health-care solution aims to keep Americans from falling through the cracks

  • Insurance options under Obamacare are dwindling, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price says.
  • That's why Republicans want to replace the law with one that provides more choices, he says.
  • A focus on patients will put the bill "across the finish line," Price tells CNBC.

Insurance options under Obamacare are dwindling, and that's why Republicans want to replace the law with one that provides more choices, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price told CNBC on Friday.

A focus on patients will "get to the right answer" and "bring this bill across the finish line," he said on "Squawk Box."

Republican hopes for a vote on Friday before President Donald Trump's 100th day in office on Saturday were dashed when House leaders late Thursday said they failed to round up enough support for their newly amended bill to repeal Obamacare.

The retooled measure, which would allow states to waive some key Obamacare provisions, won support from the hardline conservative House Freedom Caucus, but drove away more moderate members who were in favor of earlier versions.

Freedom Caucus member Rep. Dave Brat predicted in a separate interview on "Squawk Box" that a health-care vote could happen "early next week." The Virginia Republican said his caucus gets a "bad rap" for not compromising, but nothing could be further from the truth. "The amendment we offered is ... a choice. It doesn't compel anything."

When Price was a congressman from Georgia, he was a champion of the GOP opposition to President Barack Obama's 2010 Affordable Care Act.

"In the individual and small group market — that was targeted by much of the ACA — it's not working," Price told CNBC.

"You've got a third of the counties in this nation where there's only one issuer providing health coverage. You've got five states where there's only one. You've got some counties where soon they'll have nobody." He also said more and more doctors are pulling out of Medicaid.

As Republicans move to get rid of Obamacare, many recent polls have showed an increase in the popularity of the law on concerns that the GOP plan would result in fewer insured.

The Congressional Budget Office said it won't be able to readily score the latest version of the GOP bill. The latest CBO estimates of an earlier version said 24 million Americans could become uninsured over 10 years.

But Price said the CBO is only looking at specific aspects of the bill, not the whole package, which is a multiphase process. He aimed to reassure Americans, talking about "a seamless system between Medicaid, between the employer market, between the individual-small group market, and Medicare."

"The imperative is to make certain that we have that seamless system so that we don't pull the rug out from under anybody," he argued.

Heading into the week, the White House had sought to use Obamacare as leverage in the fight over funding the government beyond Saturday's 12:01 a.m. ET deadline. But a shutdown was avoided when Trump dropped his opposition to continuing Obamacare subsidies and his insistence on making a down-payment on his desire to build a southern border wall.

Free from any Obamacare or border wall conditions, the House and Senate were expected on Friday to pass a one-week stopgap funding measure, giving lawmakers time to work out all the details to fund the federal government through the end of the fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30.

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