U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson has moved closer toward supporting the Senate Republican health care bill in the wake of changes that would boost coverage costs for sick people, but which supporters say will lower costs for some others.
“I’m certainly going to vote for a motion to proceed and I encouraged all my colleagues to do so,” Johnson, R-Oshkosh, said Thursday through spokesman Ben Voelkel.
The motion, the overall passage of which remained in question Thursday afternoon, would permit debate to begin on the bill next week.
Voelkel declined to say if Johnson’s support for the motion means he will support the bill itself.
But in remarks quoted by a Washington Post reporter, Johnson signaled that he looks favorably on new changes to the bill offered by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.
Johnson also told reporters in Washington, D.C., that “I’m going to work with Sen. Cruz on improving (his) amendment,” according to a transcript from his office.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is pushing to revive the GOP health care bill after a high-profile setback in June, when a vote on a previous version of it was scuttled.
The Cruz factor
Johnson surprised many observers last month by helping halt that vote, and Cruz was one of three senators who joined Johnson in doing so.
Now the Cruz-amended version of the Senate bill would permit insurers to sell — primarily to young and healthy Americans — stripped-down health insurance plans that don’t meet coverage requirements established by former President Barack Obama’s health care law, also known as Obamacare. Insurers also would have to offer at least one other plan that meets the coverage requirements.
Cruz has said the amendment would drive down the cost of insurance for some Americans.
Democrats, including Johnson’s Wisconsin counterpart, U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, of Madison, and some industry observers say the changes would sharply undermine Obamacare protections for people with pre-existing health conditions.
Baldwin told the Wisconsin State Journal earlier this week that the amendment would allow some consumers to be snookered into buying plans that offer skimpy coverage, while sending insurance costs through the roof for older, sicker people.
Health insurers have said the changes “would further destabilize the individual market and increase costs for those with pre-existing conditions.”
Johnson made clear last month that he hopes to roll back the Obamacare protections that bar insurers from denying coverage or charging people more based on a pre-existing condition.
In a New York Times op-ed, Johnson wrote that a key flaw of the previous version of the Senate bill was “it leaves in place the pre-existing-condition rules that drive up the cost of insurance for everyone.”
Other changes to the bill would retain some Obamacare taxes on the wealthy, including on investors and health insurance executives. McConnell reportedly is seeking to placate skittish moderate Republican senators by adding billions of dollars to the bill to combat opioid abuse.
Two GOP senators, Rand Paul, of Kentucky and Susan Collins, of Maine, said they will not support the revised version of the health care bill. That means McConnell cannot afford to lose any more Republicans in order to pass it.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.