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House GOP Moves Forward with Health Bill Despite Conservative Opposition

By Emily Ethridge, CQ Roll Call

April 19, 2013 -- The House is expected next week to consider a bill opposed by some conservative groups to extend enrollment in the health care law's high-risk pools for people with pre-existing conditions through the rest of the year.

The House Rules Committee will meet April 23 to adopt a rule for consideration of the bill (HR 1549), which is backed by the GOP leadership. Two conservative groups, the Club for Growth and Heritage Action, oppose the measure, but a third, FreedomWorks, is urging GOP lawmakers to support the bill.

Under typical rules, the bill would need only a simple majority to pass the House, which means it could succeed even if some Republicans voted against it.

The measure, sponsored by Joe Pitts, R-Pa., would provide funding to extend enrollment in the health care law's (PL 111-148, PL 111-152) high-risk pools for people with pre-existing conditions through the rest of the year. Republicans criticized the Obama administration's decision earlier this year to suspend enrollment in the pools, which had lower enrollment and higher costs than expected.

According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the bill would reduce direct spending by $840 million between 2013 and 2023.

The bill would take about $3.7 billion from the law's Prevention and Public Health Fund to allow for extended enrollment in the high-risk pools, the CBO found.

Dean Clancy, FreedomWorks' vice president for public policy, noted in a statement that the bill would help impede the law's implementation by transferring money from the prevention fund. He said it also would give Republicans a chance to talk about high-risk pools, a staple of most GOP health overhaul plans.

Before the other groups announced their opposition, Republicans had rallied behind the measure, approving it on a party-line, 27-20 vote in the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The groups that oppose the bill said Republicans should not try to fix parts of the law or expand the federal government's presence in the health insurance market.

"Fiscal conservatives should be squarely focused on repealing ObamaCare, not strengthening it by supporting the parts that are politically attractive," the Club for Growth said in a statement last week.

Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., supports the bill and said it does not detract from Republicans' top goal of full repeal.

"House Republicans remain committed to full repeal of the health care law and advancing legislation that will actually achieve those goals," he said in a statement.

The bill also would eliminate a requirement that people be uninsured for six months before qualifying for coverage in the high-risk pools. Currently, about 110,000 people are enrolled in the pools.

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