HHS Secretary Price: GOP ObamaCare replacement bill 'a work in progress'

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price told Fox News' "Hannity" Tuesday night that House Republicans' bill to repeal and replace ObamaCare was the first step of a three-part process to implement the long-promised GOP tonic for the Affordable Care Act's ills.

"This is a work in progress and continues to be so," Price told host Sean Hannity in an exclusive interview. "Let me make clear to people that this single bill is not the entire plan."

Price claimed that passage of the bill introduced Monday would be followed by doing away with ObamaCare's rules and regulations "if they hurt patients." A second bill would introduce key reforms pledged by President Trump during his campaign, such as the ability to purchase insurance across state lines and the expansion of health savings accounts (HSAs).

Hours earlier, lawmakers from the right wing of the Republican Party slammed the bill as "ObamaCare by a different form" and vowed to revive a 2015 repeal bill that already passed Congress under former President Barack Obama.

“There’s no reason we should put anything less on President Trump’s desk than we put on President Obama’s,” Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said.

Price attempted to throw cold water on the so-called "clean repeal" notion, telling Hannity that it was "not a viable proposal."

"The president has said ‘Repeal and replace – we’re going to do them concurrently and move forward’," he said, "and that’s why it’s important for people to recognize the three different phases."

Republican congressional leaders have joined with the Trump administration to defend the plan on the table as a positive starting point.

"We're going to do something that's great and I'm proud to support the replacement plan released by the House of Representatives," Trump declared at the White House as he met with the House GOP vote-counting team Tuesday. "We're going to take action. There's going to be no slowing down. There's going to be no waiting and no more excuses by anybody."

At the White House meeting Tuesday, Trump made clear to House Republicans that he would be personally engaging with individual members who oppose the bill as leadership tries to round up votes, according to a lawmaker present who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private gathering.

Not long after, Trump appeared to be making good on his promise, tweeting at Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who has criticized the bill.

The president plans to reconvene the group next week and will meet with conservative leaders to discuss the issue Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Vice President Mike Pence told GOP lawmakers at the Capitol this was their chance to scuttle Obama's law, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell forecast congressional passage by early April.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., at a late-afternoon press conference, said the package “keeps our promise” to replace ObamaCare. He predicted the legislation, by the end of the process, would attract a majority in the House.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer also stressed that the bill would go through “regular order,” allowing lawmakers to make amendments.

“We’re not jamming this down anybody’s throat,” he said, during a press briefing where he stacked copies of the original law and Republicans’ proposal side-by-side to demonstrate how much smaller – and presumably simpler – the GOP plan is.

But major obstacles loom, as one conservative group after another released statements torching the plan. The Club for Growth, Heritage Action for America, Americans for Prosperity and Tea Party Patriots variously derided the new bill as Obamacare Lite, Obamacare 2.0 and even RyanCare.

Notes of caution also came from GOP governors, with Ohio Gov. John Kasich arguing that phasing out expanded Medicaid coverage without a viable alternative is "counterproductive" and Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner saying he was "very concerned" that people will be "left in the lurch" under the House GOP plan.

Republicans’ new legislation would repeal a range of the original ObamaCare taxes and subsidies, while preserving certain patient protections. But conservatives pushed back on various aspects of the plan, including a new system of tax credits that would replace the existing subsidies; a short-term continuation of the Medicaid expansion; and a new surcharge insurance companies would be allowed to impose for coverage that lapses.

Tuesday night, Price tried to answer criticism from conservatives who claimed that the proposed tax credit system amounted to an unaffordable new entitlement.

"If you get your coverage through your employer, which is about 175 million people in this country, you get a tax benefit because that’s paid with pre-tax dollars," Price said. "The individuals that are out there in the individual small group market, they don’t have any tax benefit. We’re trying to equalize the tax treatment of health coverage for folks."

Conservatives also have questions about what the plan will do for health care costs.

Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina said Tuesday the fiscal impact of the replacement plan will scored in the coming days, but “there is only one score that the American people will pay attention to – whether it really does lower the cost of their health care.”

Jordan said their plan differs from the new proposal in that it does not keep the Medicaid expansion and does not keep some of the original law’s tax increases.

Paul argued only a full repeal will garner the unified support of Republicans.

“Opposition to ObamaCare helped the GOP win the House in 2010, the Senate in 2014, and the White House in 2016,” Paul said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.