Conservatives back latest US healthcare bill, obstacles remain

WASHINGTON, April 26 (Reuters) - The conservative House Freedom Caucus came out in support of a reworked U.S. healthcare overhaul bill even though it would not fully repeal Democratic former President Barack Obama's signature healthcare law, the group said in a statement on Wednesday.

The group last month helped sink an effort to pass a Republican healthcare overhaul, called the American Health Care Act. But it remained unclear whether the amended bill could win enough support from moderate Republicans to get the 216 votes needed to pass the U.S. House of Representatives given unanimous Democratic opposition.

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Members of the Freedom Caucus
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Members of the Freedom Caucus
UNITED STATES - MARCH 22: Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, walks through Statuary Hall in the Capitol on Wednesday, March 22, 2017. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - APRIL 27: Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., arrives for the House Republican Conference meeting in the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, April 27, 2016. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 31: Rep. Brian Babin, R-Texas, leaves the House Republican Conference meeting in the Capitol on Tuesday, June 2, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 24: From left, Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., and Rep. Rod Blum, R-Iowa, at the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee meeting to organize for the 115th Congress on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 8: Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va., talks with the media after a meeting of House Republicans in the Capitol, June 8, 2016. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - MAY 21: Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Okla., attends a news conference in the Capitol where he and others primarily expressed support for victims of the Oklahoma tornado. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 8: Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., sheds his coat to reveal his University of Alabama shirt as he descends the House steps following final votes of the week on Friday, Jan. 8, 2016. No. 1 Clemson and No. 2 Alabama are set to face off on Monday night for the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
WASHINGTON, USA - JANUARY 6: Congressman Ken Buck waits in the House Chambers for a joint session of Congress to begin where all the Electoral College votes from the States will be delivered and verified at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, USA on January 6, 2017. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 2: Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Ohio, participates in the House Financial Services Committee meeting to organize for the 115th Congress on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Representative Jason Chaffetz, a Republican from Utah and chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, speaks as Representative Ron DeSantis, a Republican from Florida, looks on during a House Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, May 24, 2016. The hearing is part of some Republican lawmakers' push to impeach International Revenue Service (IRS) Commissioner John Koskinen for allegedly failing to cooperate with an investigation after the IRS reportedly targeted conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
UNITED STATES - MAY 17: Rep. Scott Desjarlais, R-Tenn., talks with reporters after a meeting of the House Republican Conference in the Capitol, May 17, 2016. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Representative Jeff Duncan, a Republican from South Carolina, speaks during the South Carolina Freedom Summit hosted by Citizens United and Congressman Jeff Duncan in Greenville, South Carolina, U.S., on Saturday, May 9, 2015. The Freedom Summit brings grassroots activists from across South Carolina and the surrounding area to hear from conservative leaders and presidential hopefuls. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 13: Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., arrives for the House Republican Conference meeting with GOP nominee for Vice President Mike Pence at the Capitol Hill Club on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 07: Representative Paul Gosar (R-AZ) speaks at a news conference to discuss legislation to revoke comedian Bill CosbyÃs Presidental Medal Of Freedom at the Cannon House Office Building on January 7, 2016 in Washington DC. Cosby, who has been accused of sexual assault by more than 50 women, was awarded his Medal of Freedom in 2002 by President George W. Bush. (Photo by Paul Morigi/WireImage)
UNITED STATES - MARCH 9: Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., attends a House Energy and Commerce Committee markup in Rayburn Building regarding the bill to repeal and replace the the Affordable Care Act, March 9, 2017. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 10: Doctor and Congressman Andy Harris (D-MD) works with staff on an amendment to overturn the city's marijuana decriminalization law, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC Thursday, July 10, 2014. Rep. Harris represents Maryland's 1st Congressional District of Maryland. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Representative Jim Jordan, a Republican from Ohio, questions Loretta Lynch, U.S. attorney general, not pictured, during a House Judiciary Committee in Washington. D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, July 12, 2016. Lynch rejected Republican demands to discuss her decision against prosecuting Hillary Clinton before a House panel whose chairman said the former secretary of state's careless handling of official communications may have jeopardized U.S. national security. Photographer: Pete Marovich/Bloomberg via Getty Images
UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 13: Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, arrives for the House Republican Conference meeting with GOP nominee for Vice President Mike Pence at the Capitol Hill Club on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - DECEMBER 9: Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., and Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., (not pictured) hold a news conference on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015, outside of the Capitol to de-authorize use of Capitol office space and staff provided to the recent ex-Speaker of the House. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - DECEMBER 11: Alex Mooney, Republican congressional candidate from West Virginia, is interviewed by Roll Call. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Representative Gary Palmer, a Republican from Alabama, listens during a House Budget Committee markup hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, March 16, 2017. While the GOP bill, called the American Health Care Act, was approved by a third committee in the House of Representatives on Thursday, the 19-17 vote was the first time Republicans crossed party lines to join Democrats against the bill. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM) speaks during an event at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian to challenge the sale of American Indian artifacts and remains in France May 24, 2016 in Washington, DC. In an international battle stretching from Native American lands in the American West to the auction houses of Paris, two tribes on May 24, renewed a years-long campaign to prevent the sale of sacred objects. The Acoma Pueblo Nation located in New Mexico and The Hoopa Valley Tribal Nation of California have announced their opposition to a scheduled sale next week of close to 500 artifacts at Paris' EVE auction house. / AFP / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - AUGUST 07: Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., of PA-04 district, delivers an address to constituents during a town hall meeting at the Hamilton Health Center in Harrisburg, Pa. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - MAY 29: Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, arrives for the House Judiciary Committee hearing on 'Oversight of the United States Department of Homeland Security' on Thursday, May 29, 2014. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - MAY 24: Rep. Bill Posey, R-Fla., leaves the Capitol Hill Club after a meeting of the House Republican Conference, May 24, 2016. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Representative Mark Sanford, a Republican from South Carolina, listens during a House Budget Committee markup hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, March 16, 2017. While the GOP bill, called the American Health Care Act, was approved by a third committee in the House of Representatives on Thursday, the 19-17 vote was the first time Republicans crossed party lines to join Democrats against the bill. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
UNITED STATES - APRIL 20: Rep. David Schweikert, R-Ariz., attends a news conference to announce 'The Visa Transparency Anti-Trafficking Act,' at the Senate Swamp on the East Front of the Capitol, April 20, 2016. The event featured testimony from Shandra Woworuntu, a survivor of sex-trafficking. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - JULY 15: Rep. Randy Weber, R-Texas, participates in a discussion with reporters in Rayburn, titled 'Conversations with Conservatives, ' at which he and others fielded questions on illegal immigrants attempting to cross the border and other issues, July 15, 2014. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 30: Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., leaves the House Republican Conference meeting in the Capitol on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
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"While the revised version still does not fully repeal Obamacare, we are prepared to support it to keep our promise to the American people to lower healthcare costs," the House Freedom Caucus said in a statement posted on the website of its chairman, Republican Representative Mark Meadows.

Republicans in Congress have made repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, a central campaign promise for seven years. Republican President Donald Trump also made it a top campaign promise.

The Republican healthcare bill would replace Obamacare's income-based tax credit with a flat age-based credit, roll back an expansion of the Medicaid government health insurance program for the poor and repeal most Obamacare taxes. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated 24 million fewer people would have insurance under the bill.

In its statement, the House Freedom Caucus said it welcomed an amendment that would let states seek waivers from some Obamacare requirements, including the highly popular provision mandating that insurers charge those with pre-existing conditions the same as healthy consumers and that insurers cover so-called essential health benefits, such as maternity care.

The amendment was hammered out between Meadows and Representative Tom MacArthur, a leader of the so-called Tuesday Group of Republican moderates in the House.

Yet several moderates said on Wednesday they had not yet made a decision on whether to support the bill while others remained opposed. Some complained that they had not been part of discussions drafting the amendment, saying they had only seen it after it was released.

"It doesn't address any of the concerns I've been raising for weeks," said Republican Representative Charlie Dent, including how to reform Medicaid.

Republican Representative Chris Collins, another member of the Tuesday Group, said pressure to follow through on Republicans' top campaign promise for the past seven years had shifted from the party's conservative wing to the moderates.

"We need to get this passed to fulfill our campaign promise, and this is the compromise that looks like it will make it happen," he said.

Republican leaders have not scheduled a vote on the bill. They said they would do so when they are confident they have the votes needed for passage. (Reporting by Timothy Ahmann; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Tom Brown)

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