House lawmakers are heading home for a two-week recess without passing a bill to repeal portions of Obamacare, but have vowed to continue talks while they are home, and even opened the possibility of returning from their Easter break early to vote on a bill.
In an email to Republicans, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy praised an amendment to the bill, the American Health Care Act, creating a fund that includes $15 billion over nine years for high risk pools that pay medical expenses for sick, costly patients. But he added that "more work remains."
"I realize how important it is to keep up momentum so be assured that conversations will continue and we will keep in contact with you throughout the district work period," he wrote.
He said he would give lawmakers plenty of notice if they would be required to return to Washington if members are suddenly ready to advance the legislation sometime during the next two weeks.
The high-risk pool amendment was made public Thursday and passed during a House Rules Committee hearing shortly after McCarthy issued his email. Members said during the meeting that they expected to discuss the latest proposal with their constituents over the break.
Democrats blasted the Rules Committee meeting, which occurred after most lawmakers had left for the recess. In a statement, Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., called it "nothing but a desperate charade for Republicans to show progress in their failed efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act."
Republicans unveiled the American Health Care Act on March 6, and despite late-night negotiations and hearings, they failed to agree on the legislation in the weeks leading up to an expected House vote March 23, the seven-year anniversary of Obamacare. After postponing a vote for a day, Republican leadership pulled the bill before it faced a floor vote.
Though the White House initially indicated it was prepared to move on to other priorities, conversations about repeal negotiations were revived days later. Vice President Mike Pence held meetings this week with both centrists and conservatives, mostly from the House Freedom Caucus, to see whether the bill could be altered to satisfy various members.
The high-risk pools are meant to help cushion the effect of allowing states to remove mandates created under Obamacare that obligated insurers to cover sicker patients, something the Freedom Caucus supports as a way to reduce premiums for customers.
This week, the White House offered to allow states to remove an Obamacare requirement mandating coverage of 10 essential health benefits, and to allow them to remove a requirement that shields sicker patients from being charged more for coverage, according to Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., chairman of the House Freedom Caucus.
Critics of the amendment have said that these pools were inadequate in covering patients before Obamacare, and other say that the latest proposal looks similar to a provision in Obamacare called reinsurance, which provided nearly $8 billion to insurance companies in 2014 and 2015, and is expected to pay out $4 billion in 2016.