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Lawmakers weigh White House offer to revive health care bill

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In this Saturday, April 1, 2017, photo, Vice President Mike Pence speaks at DynaLab, Inc. in Reynoldsburg, Ohio. Pence and a few other White House officials made a new offer to conservative House Republicans late Monday on the GOP's failed health care bill, hoping to resuscitate a measure that crashed spectacularly less than two weeks ago. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Conservative House Republicans were entertaining a White House offer Tuesday to revise the party's failed health care bill as the GOP tried to resuscitate a measure that crashed spectacularly less than two weeks ago. One leading moderate said the proposal could win over lawmakers from that wing of the GOP as well.

Vice President Mike Pence and two top White House officials made the offer Monday night in a closed-door meeting with members of the House Freedom Caucus, participants said. Opposition from the hard-line group, which has around three dozen conservative Republicans, contributed to circumstances that forced House Speaker Paul Ryan to withdraw the bill from a March 24 vote that would have produced a certain defeat.

Under the White House offer, states would be allowed to apply for waivers from several coverage requirements that President Barack Obama's 2010 health care law imposed on insurers.

These would include waivers from an Affordable Care Act provision that obliges insurers to cover so-called "essential health benefits," including mental health, maternity and substance abuse services. The current version of the GOP legislation erases that coverage requirement, but would let states reimpose them on their own.

"The biggest change was putting the essential health benefits back in," said Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y. "That really took some Tuesday Morning group folks to yes from no," he said, using the name of an organization of House GOP moderates.

The White House offer would also let states seek an exemption to the law's requirement that insurers must offer coverage to people with serious diseases. Conservatives have argued that such requirements have the effect of inflating insurance costs.

Freedom Caucus members said they wanted to see the White House offer in writing — which is expected Tuesday — before deciding whether to accept it.

Freedom Caucus chairman Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., said the group would make no decisions until it reviews the language but called the session a "good meeting" in a text message.

But Meadows also said, "There is no deal in principle" at this time.

It was unclear, however, whether GOP moderates would accept the proposed changes. When Ryan, R-Wis., pulled the legislation from the House last month, he also faced opposition from moderate GOP lawmakers upset that it went too far with cuts in Medicaid coverage for the poor and higher premiums for many low earners and people in their 50s and 60s.

Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-N.J., a leader of the moderate House Tuesday Group, was among moderate lawmakers who met with officials at the White House earlier Monday, a GOP aide said.

Also at the evening meeting with conservatives were White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and budget director Mick Mulvaney.

The details of the conservatives' meeting with Pence and others were described by Meadows and another participant who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the private strategy session.

The Freedom Caucus has drawn the most wrath from the White House for its opposition to the bill. Some fellow House Republicans have also criticized members of the conservative group, accusing them of inflexibility that led to the downfall of the bill to replace "Obamacare," a top GOP legislative priority.

Six days after the House bill crashed, President Donald Trump tweeted that the Freedom Caucus "will hurt the entire Republican agenda" if they don't start cooperating. He added, "We must fight them" in 2018, a reference to their re-election campaigns.

Several caucus members, who tend to represent safely Republican districts, tweeted back defiantly. But some have stressed a desire to move the legislation along if provisions are added that they believe would contain insurance costs.

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