Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story included a tweet from another news outlet that incorrectly quoted U.S. Sen. David Perdue on the Republican health care bill. This story has been updated to reflect his position.
WASHINGTON – Many Georgia Republicans scrambled to re-frame the health care conversation Monday on Capitol Hill after the release of a nonpartisan report that estimated that 24 million fewer people would be on the health insurance rolls by 2026 under GOP leaders’ Obamacare replacement plan compared to the current law.
Several Republican members of the state’s congressional delegation emphasized the more flattering aspects of the Congressional Budget Office’s analysis of the GOP’s American Health Care Act and ignored the uglier ones in a bid to keep the proposal afloat. Others sought to return the spotlight to rising premiums under the Affordable Care Act.
The release of the CBO report on Monday marked a critical moment for the fledging Republican health care replacement. House Republican leaders and President Donald Trump have been making the hard sell to skeptical members of their own party for a week that the plan would provide relief to millions of Americans.
The CBO’s analysis could attract some new supporters for the plan given its estimate that the GOP bill would lower the deficit by $337 billion over the next decade and slim health care premiums by roughly 10 percent in some cases beginning in 2020. It could also crystallize opposition, particularly among Republicans from states that expanded Medicaid, given the 24 million uninsured figure and a projected short-term spike in premiums.
The offices of some Peach State Republicans kept their distance following the release of the CBO report. Some said they wanted time to evaluate before commenting.
Others rushed to defend the embattled bill, which can only afford two GOP detractors in the Senate and about 20 in the House should Democrats stay unified against it.
“The CBO report confirms that President Trump’s plan will decrease the deficit and lower health insurance premiums, which is great news for Georgia families,” U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ranger, said in a statement.
“This bill is just the first step to creating patient-centered, market-driven health care that gives Americans the freedom to make their own health care decisions,” said U.S. Rep. Drew Ferguson, R-West Point. “People will be able to buy the coverage they want and need rather that an expensive, one-size-fits-all policy mandated by the government.”
Several argued that the CBO’s analysis did not take into account the GOP’s full health care plan, since it excluded leaders’ pledges to implement other policies at a later date, such as allowing insurance companies to sell plans across state lines.
A spokeswoman for Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson said the three-term Republican was still reviewing the bill but that he is “committed to following through on our promise to repeal the irreparably flawed healthcare law known as Obamacare before the system implodes on its own.”
U.S. Sen. David Perdue told reporters that the health care rewrite is “too important” and that Republicans must “get this right.”
“When it gets to the Senate, we’re going to be very careful and make sure that people aren’t hurt by it,” he said.
In a statement released by his office later Monday evening, Perdue also sought to shift attention toward Obamacare’s instability:
“My focus continues to be on responsibly dismantling this broken law and putting in place a better system based on people’s individual needs, not Washington’s government mandates. President Trump has been very clear he will follow through on his commitment to provide more health care choices and flexibility.”
Georgia’s four House Democrats kept quiet on Monday evening, as did Reps. Jody Hice and Barry Loudermilk, the two Republicans who previously said they couldn’t support the GOP bill in its current form.
Meanwhile, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said the Trump administration “strenuously disagreed” with the CBO report.