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Oregon Rep. Greg Walden Backs GOP Health Care Bill That Cuts Pre-Existing Conditions

<p>Oregon Rep. Greg Walden, one of the chief architects of the GOP's failed attempt to replace the Affordable Care Act, supports a new bill to do the same.</p>

J. Scott Applewhite

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Oregon Rep. Greg Walden, one of the chief architects of the GOP's failed attempt to replace the Affordable Care Act, supports a new bill to do the same.

Oregon Congressman Greg Walden indicated Thursday he supports the latest version of the Republican bill that would repeal and replace Obamacare.

The GOP lawmaker's support for the bill comes even though the new bill would allow states to drop certain protections for people with pre-existing health conditions.

Walden repeatedly told constituents at town halls earlier this month that he would not support legislation allowing insurers to hike costs on sick patients.

Critics of Republican attempts to come up with an alternative to the Affordable Care Act — often called Obamacare — say Walden's support doesn't square with his promises on pre-existing conditions.

Patrick Willard of Families USA, a Washington, D.C., advocacy group, said Walden claims to "support protecting people with pre-existing conditions" but then pulls "a bait-and-switch."

Walden spokesman Andrew Malcolm said in an email to OPB that Walden supports the latest version of the bill, which was worked out in negotiations with the House Freedom Caucus. Members of that caucus played a big role in denying House leaders the support they needed to pass an earlier version of the bill in March.

Malcolm did not respond to requests for explanation why Walden is supporting a bill that many see as weakening provisions the congressman has previously described as crucial.

In an April 13 town hall in The Dalles, Walden said, "We're not going back to the days when could underwrite you, say, 'Oh yeah, we'll cover you.' It will just be so expensive you can't afford it. That is not a plan I'm going to support."

Willard, of Families USA, said that under this new version of the health care bill, Oregon could continue to offer a full range of protections for those with pre-existing conditions.

But he added it could turn into a "race to the bottom" if many states decide to waive those protections.

Several Supporters of the new version of the bill insist it will still provide needed protections. Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-N.J., who worked out the provisions of the new version with members of the freedom caucus, told CNN it will protect "vulnerable people" while giving more flexibility to states.

He said states can't gain waivers without having programs in place to protect those with pre-existing conditions.

Noe Baker of the American Cancer Society Action Network said MacArthur's amendment would give states too much flexibility. If they set up high-risk pools, she said, they would not necessarily have to provide guaranteed coverage for many services.

"This amendment would really be detrimental to anyone with pre-existing conditions, particularly someone with cancer," she said.

House Speaker Paul Ryan has said he won't bring a health care bill to the floor of the House until there are enough votes for passage. But Willard said GOP lawmakers are under heavy pressure by their leadership to move a bill on to the Senate, where its fate is uncertain.

Copyright 2017 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Jeff Mapes is a senior political reporter at Oregon Public Broadcasting. Previously, Jeff covered state and national politics for The Oregonian for nearly 32 years. He has covered numerous presidential, congressional, gubernatorial and ballot measure campaigns, as well as many sessions of the Legislature, stretching back to 1985. Jeff graduated from San Jose State University with a B.A. in journalism.