WASHINGTON - An effort by House Republicans to highlight problems with President Obama's health-care law by bailing out a program for people with pre-existing medical conditions appeared to backfire Wednesday.
GOP leaders postponed a scheduled vote after the measure met strong opposition from two directions: from conservative groups resistant to any federal role in health care and from Democrats who objected that the Republicans planned to pay for the high-risk patient program by raiding a disease prevention provision the administration says is essential to the overhaul.
The legislation, a departure from the usual GOP efforts to kill the Affordable Health Care Act outright, also faced a White House veto threat.
Erica Elliott, spokeswoman for Republican Whip Kevin McCarthy of California, said in a statement, "We had good conversations with our members and made a lot of solid progress" on the bill. But she said there was "still work to do," and with members leaving for the Bush Presidential Library dedication, "we'll continue the conversations" when the House returns in May after a recess next week.
The GOP bill would provide up to $3.6 billion to shore up the Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan, or PCIP, which is intended to be a stopgap measure for uninsured high-risk patients until the end of this year, when full consumer protections under the health-care act go into effect.
Under the plan, those who have been uninsured for six months would be subsidized so they could buy insurance at average rates.
The original goal was for the plan to reach more than 300,000 before it disappeared at the end of this year, but the program's costs were higher than anticipated and it enrolled slightly more than 100,000 before the administration announced in February that it would stop taking new applications.
Republicans, who in the past session of Congress tried several dozen times to dismantle what they call Obamacare, sought to use their new "Helping Sick Americans Now Act" to point out defects in the pre-existing conditions program.
The money for the plan would come from the Prevention and Public Health Fund, a provision of the health-care law that Republicans have assailed as a slush fund for Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Republicans are also critical of the use of some $300 million from that fund to publicize the new health insurance markets coming this fall under the health-care law.