Cruz's ObamaCare fix gets support from Hill conservatives

A low-flying proposal from Sen. Ted Cruz to overhaul a major component of ObamaCare is attracting the kind of conservative enthusiasm that could prove critical in the broader GOP push to repeal and replace the 2010 law.

The Texas Republican senator has offered up his idea as an amendment that would allow insurers to offer bare-boned policies that don't meet Affordable Care Act standards -- provided they also offer plans in compliance.

Whether the Tea Party-backed senator’s gambit will help bring an overhaul bill to President Trump’s desk remains uncertain, considering the proposed change could drive away GOP moderates. Leaders of the Republican-controlled Senate are trying to strike just the right balance between moderate and conservative interests after having adjourned for the July 4 recess with no deal in hand that could attract the minimum 50 senators needed.

The Cruz plan aims to roll back the requirements that boost coverage for individual plans but also increase cost.

“The mandates the federal government puts on [Americans] are so ridiculous that men are forced to carry coverage for mammograms, women are forced to carry coverage for prostate issues. It’s absurd,” Marc Short, Trump's director of legislative affairs, told “Fox News Sunday.” “We’re going to get rid of many of those regulations and mandates to lower cost.”

The Cruz amendment is intended to lower consumer costs and presumably help commercial insurance companies continue offering policies.

Several insurers have moved to pull out of various state-based ObamaCare exchanges in recent weeks, as lawmakers deliberate. Aetna recently announced it would leave the Virginia exchange after losing nearly $700 million over roughly the first three years.

“We've got to do something to reinject free market forces into this environment,” Utah GOP Sen. Mike Lee, who joined Cruz in drafting the Consumer Freedom Act, told CBS on Sunday. “If we can bring free market forces to bear, we can bring down cost for middle Americans."

The Cruz plan was submitted last week for analysis to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, which is expected to complete its report when the Senate and House return next week from their July recess.

Cruz, Lee and Kentucky GOP Sen. Rand Paul are among a handful of conservative GOP senators who did not support the original Senate health bill.

In May, the GOP-controlled House passed its ObamaCare overhaul -- but not without its own share of support-wrangling from the conference’s conservative and moderate wings.

No House Democrat voted for the measure. And no Senate Democrat is supporting their chamber’s plan, which means Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., will need support from 50 of his 52 senators.

“If the Cruz consumer choice amendment gets there, yes I can support it,” North Carolina GOP Rep. Mark Meadows, leader of his chamber’s ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus, told reporters last week.

Prior to the Cruz plan, Meadows expressed doubt that the Senate overhaul bill -- criticized for having hundreds of millions in insurance “bailouts” -- could gain enough House support.

To bring House conservatives and moderates together to pass the chamber’s bill, Meadows and his caucus of about 30 members agreed to a compromise measure by New Jersey GOP Rep. Tom MacArthur that would give states the ability to opt out of some core ObamaCare insurance requirements.

The Cruz plan appears to have another hurdle -- whether it can yield enough cost savings to make it attractive to Republicans.

“These are the types of reforms that would help roll back the damage inflicted by Obamacare,” Michael Needham, leader of the conservative group Heritage Action for America, recently told The Hill newspaper.  “Simply throwing more money at the problem as some moderates are seeking to do is not an enduring solution.”