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Tampa Bay Republicans fall in line, vote to support GOP health care bill

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Although the four Republicans who represent areas of the Tampa Bay area said earlier this week they had serious reservations about the latest attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act in Congress, all four – Vern Buchanan, Dennis Ross, Gus Bilirakis and Daniel Webster – voted in support of the bill on Thursday. They were the difference in the bill getting passed, as it won by just four votes, 217-213.

“After seven long years, Americans across Florida and the entire nation can breathe a sigh of relief today because we fulfilled our promise to repeal and replace Obamacare,” said Ross, who represents Polk County. “By working with President Trump and uniting to pass the AHCA, we are putting patients first and ending an era of skyrocketing premiums, massive tax hikes and burdensome mandates and penalties.”

Although there remains extreme concerns about what the bill will mean for patients who have pre-existing conditions, Ross says his vote “prevents insurers from denying patients coverage for pre-existing conditions, allows children up to 26 years old to stay on their parents’ healthcare plans, and provides a seamless transition so no one has the rug pulled out from under them.”

Bilirakis relies on a hearing aid. In his statement, the Tarpon Springs Republican said he lives with a pre-existing condition, as do many of his family members and loved ones.

“I would not have voted for the bill if I thought protections for those with pre-existing conditions were in jeopardy, as I promised my constituents during three town hall meetings,” he said. “Today’s vote is the beginning of health care reform, not the be-all-end-all, and we cannot allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good. I look forward to continuing work to ensure health care is affordable and accessible for all.”

Republicans who had been on the fence on the American Health Care Act 2.0, specifically on the issue of taking away affordable insurance for those with pre-existing conditions, took comfort in an amendment offered Wednesday. That amendment will provide an additional $8 billion over five years to help high-risk insurance plans in states that receive waivers under the MacArthur amendment reduce premiums or other out-of-pocket costs for individuals with pre-existing conditions who have a gap in their insurance coverage.

Congressional District 11 Republican Daniel Webster was a “no” earlier this week, but announced late Wednesday that changes to the bill had compelled him to support the legislation.

“Today, I voted to end the nightmare that has been the [un]Affordable Care Act (ACA) and to provide Americans with the care they need, at a price they can afford, from the doctor they choose,” he said in a statement. “For six years, I have been an advocate for repealing the failed Obamacare and replacing it with real healthcare reform. ACA has is collapsing across the country – currently 4.7 million people are without an insurer.  This failed policy is raising costs for patients and forcing insurers out of the marketplace, which leaves patients and families with nowhere to go.”

Webster’s concerns had centered around Florida’s Medicaid-funded nursing home beds.  He says comments from President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and officials with Center for Medicaid Services and House leadership have convinced him that they are “committed to find a solution to ensure Florida is equipped to serve one of our most vulnerable.”

“With these assurances and Chairman Walden’s comments that are now in the official record, I voted for the bill today,” Webster said.

Later in the day, Vern Buchanan weighed in on why he supported the bill.

“This legislation will lower premiums, give people greater choice and drive down the cost of health care,” Buchanan said. “It ends the punishing mandates that force people to buy insurance under threat of steep government penalties, while keeping coverage for the most vulnerable.”

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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