Health care battle: Senate conservatives begin negotiations

As the Senate health care bill continues to be opposed by a seemingly growing number of Republican senators, conservatives worked through the weekend with Senate leadership to offer alternatives to the controversial legislative text.

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After voicing their disapproval of the bill on Friday through a joint statement, Senators Ted Cruz (R-Texas) Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) have opened up negotiations with Senate leadership, including Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and are proposing significant changes to the legislative text in the hopes they can vote “yes” on a bill that they don’t believe does enough to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, FOX Business has learned.

Sergio Gor, a spokesman for Rand Paul, confirmed to FOX Business that the four opponents to the bill are working with leadership on altering the discussion draft in the hope that they can come to an agreement.

One of the concerns the group has goes back to the debate on whether health insurance companies should be required to provide coverage for people who fall under the title one section of the Affordable Care Act, which includes individuals with pre-existing conditions, according to sources familiar with the matter.

Similar to the House health care bill, the American Health Care Act, conservative senators are proposing that states should be given the option to waive Title One coverage in the hope that insurance companies would be able to save money and become unshackled from government regulations, according to those close to the discussions. The House passed their ObamaCare replacement bill in May after months of negotiations.

With 52 seats in the Senate, leadership is going to need the support of at least two of the four conservative members if they intend to pass their new health care legislation by the July 4 deadline. There are currently five Republicans against the bill with the recent addition of Dean Heller (R-Nev.), who acknowledged on Friday he would not vote for the bill in its current form.

A spokesman for Mike Lee had no comment but did not deny the conservative senators working together and referred to Lee’s op-ed posted on his website, where he specifically asks for “the bill be amended to include an opt-out provision, for states or even just for individuals.” Lee also notes he would not vote the bill in its current form.

A spokesman for McConnell also didn’t deny conversations with the four conservative senators, telling FOX Business “Senate Leadership has been engaged with the entire Conference.”

A spokesman for Cruz did not return calls for comment, and a spokesman for Johnson had no comment.

The bill in its current form has concerned others within the Republican conference due to the phasing out of Medicaid funds and, similar to the House bill, putting the Medicaid program on a budget by winding down the open-ended entitlement.

Susan Collins, (R-Maine), addressed her concerns with the bill's cuts to Medicaid on ABC on Sunday.

“I’m very concerned about the cost of insurance for older people with serious chronic illnesses, and the impact of the Medicaid cuts on our state governments,” Collins said.

Until Monday, President Trump’s administration didn’t appear to be directly involved in the discussions on the Senate's health care bill. However, that changed when White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters at his daily press briefing that Trump had “positive” discussions with several Republican senators over the weekend, including two who are working directly with Senate leadership, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz.