×

Celebrating at the White House, top Republicans say health-care vote starts to lift Obamacare 'burden'

After taking the first step to replace Obamacare on Thursday, top Republican congressmen aimed to cast their move as a victory for Americans.

Dozens of House Republicans gathered at the White House Rose Garden with President Donald Trump to celebrate their health-care bill's narrow approval by a 217 to 213 margin. As the bill got sent to the Senate — where it faces more skeptical Republicans and potentially major changes — House Republican leaders joined Trump for a victory lap.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, who beamed standing behind Trump as the president introduced him, said Republicans are "committed to keeping [their] promise" to repeal Obamacare. Ryan reiterated that he wants to reduce costs and increase choices for consumers in what he called a "vibrant marketplace," while admitting that the effort has a long way to go.

"We've got a lot of work to do. But one thing is now clear. Republicans are committed to keeping our promise to lift the burden of Obamacare from the American people and put in place a better and more patient-centered system," Ryan said.

The House plan has fueled many concerns about its possible effects on health-care coverage and affordability. While the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has not assessed the costs of the current, amended plan, a review of an earlier plan that failed in the House in March estimated it would lead to significant growth in the number of people uninsured.

It estimated that 24 million more people would be uninsured in the next decade under the GOP plan, and would lead to major premium increases for older Americans. Those potential effects raised alarm not only among Democrats but also among several Republican senators.

House leaders argued Thursday that Obamacare has become untenable, due to premium increases where subsidies are not available and scant access to individual insurance markets in part of the country. House GOP leaders have also highlighted the CBO estimate that premium costs would fall over a decade after initially increasing under the GOP plan.

House Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy said at the White House that passing the bill was "what's right for the American country.

"Today is the start of a new beginning," the Republican from California said.

Only 17 percent of U.S. voters supported the earlier version of the plan in March, according to a Quinnipiac University poll. That lack of backing contributed to some Republicans' wariness of the earlier plan before a series of amendments designed to win support from conservative and moderate Republicans were added.

One of those amendments — which lets states waive the Obamacare guarantee that consumers will not pay more because of pre-existing conditions and create so-called high-risk pools — has proven particularly controversial. The latest amendment to win over moderates — introduced by Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan — aims to reduce concerns about funding those pools by providing an additional $8 billion over five years for premiums or other out-of-pocket costs.

Republicans contend that they will not reduce protection for people with pre-existing conditions but critics say the $8 billion isn't nearly enough money.

Amid lawmakers smiling and congratulating one another at the White House, House Majority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise said the vote was not about "achieving some kind of political goal" but about "rescuing families from the failures of Obamacare."

Watch: Ryan says there's still work to do