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HHS Secretary Price: Senate must aim for 'lowest common denominator' to keep Obamacare repeal alive

  • Do whatever "gets us to 50 votes so that we can move forward on a health-care reform legislation," Tom Price says.
  • A plan to repeal and replace Obamacare by Senate Republicans failed to get the votes needed for approval Tuesday night.

Senate Republicans need to aim for the "lowest common denominator" to keep the Obamacare repeal and replacement drive alive, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price told CNBC on Wednesday.

"What gets us to 50 votes so that we can move forward on a health-care reform legislation ... that's what needs to happen. And that status quo isn't working out for folks out there in the real world," he said on "Squawk Box."

"Legislation is one step at a time. And so we'll see what the next step is and move on from there," said Price, who was a champion of the GOP opposition to President Barack Obama's 2010 Affordable Care Act when he was a congressman from Georgia.

HHS Secretary Tom Price
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HHS Secretary Tom Price

Price spoke after Republican senators on Tuesday narrowly voted to open debate on health care but were unable to get the votes for an effort to repeal and replace Obamacare that Senate Republicans had worked on for months.

The failed plan would have made deep cuts to Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor, and reduced Obamacare subsidies to lower-income people to help them defray the cost of health insurance.

Last week, the Congressional Budget Office, in an analysis of the last amended version of the Senate bill, estimated that it would lead to 22 million more Americans lacking health insurance by 2026 than would be uninsured if Obamacare remained in its current form.

"Legislation is one step at a time." -Tom Price, Health and Human Services Secretary

Price told CNBC the CBO score on the latest Senate bill is "significantly flawed."

"If the CBO is comparing it to where we are right now, we believe their numbers are significantly flawed," he said. "When they work on the numbers on how much something costs, they do a pretty good job but their coverage estimates are widely variable."

For his part, President Donald Trump on Tuesday told a rally in Youngstown, Ohio, that "any senator who votes against repeal and replace is telling America that they are fine with the Obamacare nightmare."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that he hopes to have a measure that can pass the Senate and advance to the House or a conference between the House and Senate by the "end of the week."

A new GOP health-care option, referred to as a skinny repeal, is emerging in the Senate. It would eliminate the Affordable Care Act's penalties for individuals who go without insurance and companies that don't offer it. It would also end a tax on medical-device makers.

Watch: Sec. Tom Price: Difference between single-payer system and health-care selection

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— CNBC's Jacob Pramuk contributed to this report.