Hultgren, Roskam join majority in Obamacare repeal in U.S. House

In a high-stakes decision, suburban Republicans voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act in favor of a controversial substitute Thursday.

U.S. Reps. Randy Hultgren of Plano and Peter Roskam of Wheaton supported the American Health Care Act, which squeaked by in the U.S. House in a 217-213 showdown where every GOP vote counted. All seven Republicans from Illinois voted for the repeal; all 11 Illinois Democrats voted no.

The vote was a win for President Donald Trump and for House Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, who has been trying since January to bring rival GOP factions together behind a bill.

Critics including the American Medical Association, the American Lung Association and AARP contend the Republican plan will raise insurance costs for many, weaken protections for people with pre-existing conditions in certain states, and cause millions to lose coverage.

Proponents argue the new act will give people choices through tax incentives and correct problems with the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. Trump said during a "Face the Nation" interview Sunday that pre-existing conditions would be covered.

The bill goes to the Senate, where its fate is uncertain. But pushback is likely to dog Hultgren and Roskam, whose 6th District voted for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in November.

Roskam was greeted by about three dozen protesters when he arrived early Thursday evening to a GOP fundraiser at Arrowhead Golf Club in Wheaton. Demonstrators carried Planned Parenthood posters and wore black veils because, they said, they were in mourning after the vote.

"We're going to keep showing up," said Jax West, who lives in Lisle. "Anywhere that Roskam's going, we're going to be there."

Roskam dismissed concerns from health care organizations that people with cancer and other illnesses living in states that opt out of pre-existing condition rules would pay more for insurance or get priced out.

"It's uninformed to make that characterization," he said. In "the plain language of the law ... states can't get a waiver until they have a plan to deal with pre-existing conditions."

Roskam said he saw amendments to the bill within the past couple of days that were "fairly short - just a matter of pages."

"Everybody likes to be welcomed with a parade and that kind of thing, but by the same token, everybody has the right to express their views, and that's the nature of this process," Roskam said of the protesters during a brief meeting with reporters in Wheaton.

Hultgren admitted he "had great concerns about this bill," which was tweaked to attract moderate and far-right Republicans as House leaders played hardball politics. Just 20 Republicans broke ranks.

A final version came just hours before the decision, meaning the Congressional Budget Office was unable to offer analysis although it had estimated the original would increase the number of uninsured Americans by 24 million by 2026.

"Doing nothing isn't an option, which I why I supported this amended bill as an important next step in the longer process of broader health reform that will benefit Illinois," Hultgren said in a statement.

Hultgren previously objected to parts of the original AHCA that underpinned Medicaid funding in Illinois.

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner appeared underwhelmed by the new bill. Under Obamacare, Illinois was able to expand Medicaid, which covers low-income and disabled people.

"The changes did not address fundamental concerns about the bill's impact on the 650,000 individuals that are part of our Medicaid expansion population, nor have those changes eased the concerns of the 350,000 people in the individual market who are dealing with skyrocketing premiums and fewer choices," Rauner said.

Roskam said the Medicaid "expansion number is unsustainable." The new policy allows Medicaid users to switch to a refundable tax credit to buy the coverage they want, he said.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Evanston argued Medicaid would be gutted by $880 billion to provide "a $600 billion tax cut for millionaires, billionaires, and corporations."

Since Obamacare was enacted in 2010, House Republicans voted repeatedly to nix it.

Asked why Republicans didn't simply revise Obamacare, Roskam said "the status quo wasn't working," pointing to a shrinking number of insurance providers on exchanges.

"The passage of the Affordable Care Act became a zero-sum game," Roskam said. "In other words, there's clearly some people that benefited under the ACA, but it is as if they benefited at the demise of someone else, and that's not the way it was sold."

In a speech on the House floor, Schaumburg Democratic U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi said "the country will not remember what we say here today, but they will never forget what we do. No cancer survivor will forget. No parent struggling to afford surgery for their child will forget."

• Daily Herald staff writer Katlyn Smith contributed to this report

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Randy Hultgren
  Rep. Peter Roskam answers questions at the Arrowhead Golf Club in Wheaton related to the House's passing of the American Health Care Act. Daniel White/
  Patrick Watson, left, organized a protest against Rep. Peter Roskam in front of the Arrowhead Golf Club. Daniel White/
  Bob Graham of Naperville, left, and Tim Hickey of Bensenville, right, stand along Butterfield Road in front of the Arrowhead Golf Club in Wheaton to protest Rep. Peter Roskam and his stance related to health care reform. Daniel White/
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