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24 million could lose coverage under GOP plan

Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Fourteen million Americans would lose coverage next year under House Republican legislation remaking the nation's health care system, and that number would balloon to 24 million by 2026, Congress' budget analysts projected Monday. Their report deals a stiff blow to a GOP drive already under fire from both parties and large segments of the medical industry.

The Congressional Budget Office report undercuts a central argument President Donald Trump and Republicans have cited for swiftly rolling back the 2010 health care overhaul: that the insurance markets created under that statute are "a disaster" and about to implode. The congressional experts said the market for individual policies "would probably be stable in most areas under either current law or the (GOP) legislation."

The report also flies in the face of Trump's talk of "insurance for everybody," which he stated in January. He has since embraced a less expansive goal -- to "increase access" -- advanced by House Speaker Paul Ryan and other Republicans.

Health secretary Tom Price told reporters at the White House the report was "simply wrong" and he disagreed "strenuously," saying it omitted the impact of additional GOP legislation and regulatory changes the Trump administration plans.

In a signal of trouble, Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., leader of a large group of House conservatives, said the report "does little to alleviate" concerns about the bill including tax credits considered too costly.

The budget office's estimates provide a detailed, credible appraisal of the Republican effort to unravel former President Barack Obama's 2010 overhaul. The office has a four-decade history of even-handedness and is currently headed by an appointee recommended by Price when he was a congressman. Trump has repeatedly attacked the agency's credibility, citing its significant underestimate of the number of people who would buy insurance on state and federal exchanges under "Obamacare."

On the plus side for Republicans, the budget office said the GOP measure would reduce federal deficits by $337 billion over the coming decade. That's largely because it would cut the federal-state Medicaid program for low-income Americans.

While the legislation would push premiums upward before 2020 by an average of 15 to 20 percent compared to current law, premiums would move lower after that. By 2026, average premiums for individuals would be 10 percent lower than under Obama's statute. The GOP bill would obliterate the tax penalties Obama's law imposes on people who don't buy coverage, and it would eliminate the federal subsidies reflecting people's income and premium costs for millions. It would instead provide tax credits based largely on recipients' ages, let insurers charge more for older people and boost premiums for those who let coverage lapse.

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