When House Republicans first tried to replace Obamacare in March, Rep. Steve Pearce – a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus – didn’t support the legislation. But on Thursday, after weeks of additional negotiating, the House approved the American Health Care Act with Pearce’s support. The new bill, which now heads to the Senate, passed by a very narrow 217-213 vote – so Pearce’s support was crucial.
Democrats – including those representing New Mexico – characterized the bill as a heartless proposal that gives tax breaks to the wealthy while stripping poor people of health care options. The headline on a scathing Washington Post editorial Friday summed up the legislation in three words: “Betrayal, carelessness and hypocrisy.” The editorial said the legislation was hastily concocted without the benefit of a Congressional Budget Office analysis of its costs or how many Americans would lose their coverage under Obamacare. The bill also offered no iron-clad protections for those with pre-existing conditions, the editorial noted, and would allow states to choose whether their insurers can opt out of coverage for pre-existing conditions.
In an interview with the Journal editorial board Friday, Pearce called characterizations of the Republican bill as draconian or heartless “totally misplaced.”
“We got a much better bill,” Pearce said in comparing the previous House GOP bill to that passed Thursday. “It still has deep flaws – you could find a dozen reasons to vote against it. But with Obamacare, we are in an absolute free-fall. I’m here representing a group of people on the lower end of the economic spectrum, and they are just struggling to make ends meet.”
“If the Senate passed the bill today I think people in New Mexico would see a significant reduction in their rates,” Pearce added. “At the end of the day, I think that’s what people care about.”
Throughout the debate, the Republican congressman has fixated on something called “essential health benefits” under the Affordable Care Act. The 10 such essential health benefits, which include vaccines, maternity and mental health care, were mandated as part of insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act. But Pearce argues that a young man without a family shouldn’t be expected to help underwrite maternity care and the requirement he do so drives up costs. Under the version the House passed Thursday, states would be able to create their own list of essential health benefits that could result in less required coverage.
“The treatment of the essential health benefits gives me deep pause … essential health benefits are (currently) required in every plan in the country,” he said. “The young healthy people are opting out because the costs are going up.”
Pearce also said he hoped the Senate would implement “more stringent work requirements” for those who receive Medicaid. House Speaker Paul Ryan put into the bill that passed Thursday a provision letting states impose work requirements on people who enroll in Medicaid. Critics contend such a requirement would punish people already struggling financially. Pearce said those who can’t take care of themselves would still be protected, “but increasingly, there are people who are able to work who just don’t,” he said. “We should have some modest work requirement.”
The Congressional Budget Office estimates the bill would cut federal spending on Medicaid by 25 percent by 2026 compared to current law, shifting the burden to cash-strapped states and potentially leaving fewer poor people covered.
The Republican congressman also discussed Trump’s proposed border wall. He said while he wants to “secure the border” he still opposes a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border. But he stopped short of a vow to vote against any money to pay for it.
“I don’t think I ever steadfastly said I’d vote against anything with (the money) in there,” Pearce said. “I want to secure the border, but this isn’t going to be very effective.” He also said he sensed Trump may be softening his resolve to build an actual wall and may eventually settle for some other compromise on enhanced border security, which could include fencing, drones, additional manpower, etc. “I hear his language evolving and that of the people he’s got working for him,” Pearce said.
As for the president’s job performance after 100 days and a week in office, Pearce gave Trump a thumbs up.
“I think he’s grown in that capacity … grown in stature,” Pearce said. “Overall he’s done almost exactly what he said he would do, whether you agree with him or disagree with him, but finding someone who will actually do that is stunning.
“With Bush and Obama I never saw this level of engagement. This is what I think we need – a strong, steady hand,” Pearce added. ” I’d rate him pretty high.”
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