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House Republicans offer own healthcare legislation

More than 60 House GOP members sign on to a bill to deregulate health insurance sales. They also introduce legislation to restrict federal abortion funding.

January 21, 2011|By Noam N. Levey and Lisa Mascaro, Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington — Following up on their largely symbolic vote to repeal the new healthcare law, House Republicans moved ahead Thursday with more targeted efforts to advance their own healthcare initiatives, including deregulating health insurance sales.

More than 60 House Republicans signed on to a new bill to permit interstate sales of health insurance. The goal would be to lower premium costs by avoiding requirements in many states that insurers cover certain services, such as maternity care, cancer screenings and mastectomies.

At the same time, GOP lawmakers introduced legislation to place more restrictions on federal funding for abortion services. Under the bill, Americans who buy health plans on their own that cover abortions would no longer be able to deduct any costs of the plan from their taxes.

House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) called the abortion bill — which is cosponsored by a Democrat, Illinois Rep. Daniel Lipinski — "one of our highest legislative priorities."

Also Thursday, a group of conservative House Republicans unveiled a fiscal plan that would prohibit any spending this year to implement the new healthcare law.

The proposal would also bar the Justice Department from defending the law against court challenges and halt federal aid to states to help them prop up their Medicaid health insurance program for the poor.

The healthcare cuts are part of a broader plan to cut $2.5 trillion over the next decade by rolling back federal discretionary spending on non-security, non-veteran programs to 2006 levels.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said Thursday that he supported the effort and looked forward to "these cuts and others being brought to the floor."

House Republicans have pledged to not only repeal the healthcare overhaul that President Obama signed in March, but also develop a set of alternatives.

The House passed a resolution Thursday instructing GOP committee chairs to write legislation that meets 12 criteria, including lowering premium costs, assuring access to coverage for people with preexisting conditions and increasing the number of insured Americans, all without raising taxes.

Most Democrats have dismissed the legislation. Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) called it "a largely empty resolution."

The resolution passed, 253 to 175, with 14 Democrats joining a united GOP in support. That's 11 more Democrats than backed the repeal resolution Wednesday.

Senior GOP lawmakers say they will live up to the pledge, though speaking to reporters Thursday, four committee chairmen said they would not set a timeline for developing alternatives.

They also would not say how many more uninsured Americans they would assure had health benefits.

"Putting an artificial number out there, we think, is a dangerous step to take," said Rep. John Kline of Minnesota, the new chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee. "Our approach all along has been to look at lowering the cost of healthcare and allowing more people to be insured."

The leading GOP health proposal in the last Congress was projected to help restrain growth in insurance premiums, but it also would have left 52 million Americans uninsured in 2019. Today, an estimated 50 million Americans have no health insurance.

While House Republicans were outlining their attacks on the law, the Obama administration announced a new set of federal grants to help states establish insurance exchanges starting in 2014.

These state-based exchanges, which are envisioned as insurance equivalents of travel sites such as Expedia, are to become the central Internet-based marketplace for consumers who do not get health benefits at work.

Every state but Minnesota and Alaska has already received a $1-million grant to plan the exchanges, but only California has passed legislation to create one since President Obama signed the overhaul. Massachusetts and Utah had exchanges before the new law was enacted.

noam.levey@latimes.com

lisa.mascaro@latimes.com

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