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Senate Republican leaders delay healthcare bill vote

Senate Republican leaders have shelved a vote on their prized healthcare bill until at least next month, forced to retreat by a rebellion that left them lacking enough votes to even begin debate.

"We will not be on the bill this week," Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell told reporters in what was a remarkable reversal of plans to push one of President Donald Trump's and the Republican Party's top priorities through the chamber this week.

"But we're still working towards getting at least 50 people in a comfortable place," he said.

That is the number of Republican senators who must back the bill for it to survive, with all Democrats opposed.

"We've got a lot of discussions going on and I'm still optimistic we're going to get there," he added.

Minutes earlier, Mr McConnell divulged the decision to Republican senators at a private lunch also attended by Vice President Mike Pence and White House chief of staff Reince Priebus.

Republican senators planned to travel to the White House later to meet with Mr Trump.

Mr McConnell had hoped to push the measure through his chamber before an Independence Day recess that party leaders fear will be used by foes of the legislation to tear away support.

The bill, which would roll back much of President Barack Obama's healthcare law, has been one of the party's top priorities for years, and the delay is a major embarrassment to Mr Trump and Mr McConnell.

At least five Republican senators - conservatives and moderates - have said they would vote against even beginning debate, and the bill would be derailed if just three of the 52 Republican senators voted against it.

Republican defections increased after Congress's budget referee said on Monday the measure would leave 22 million more people uninsured by 2026 than Mr Obama's 2010 statute.

Utah's Mike Lee became the fifth Republican senator to oppose letting the chamber formally begin considering the proposal.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis suggested some ammunition Republican leaders could use, saying the Senate bill would cut federal deficits by 202 billion dollars more over the coming decade than the version the House approved in May.

Senate leaders could use some of those additional savings to attract moderate votes by making Medicaid and other provisions more generous, though conservatives would rather use that money to reduce government red ink.

Mr Lee and other conservatives have favoured a fuller repeal of Mr Obama's statute than the Senate bill would enact.

The 22 million extra uninsured Americans were just one million fewer than the number the budget office estimated would become uninsured under the House version.

Mr Trump has called the House bill "mean" and prodded senators to produce a package with more "heart".

The budget office report said the Senate bill's coverage losses would especially affect people between the ages of 50 and 64, before they qualify for Medicare, and with incomes below 200% of the poverty level, or around 30,300 dollars for an individual.

The Senate plan would end the tax penalty the law imposes on people who do not buy insurance, in effect erasing Mr Obama's so-called individual mandate, and on larger businesses that do not offer coverage to workers.

It would let states ease Mr Obama's requirements that insurers cover certain specified services such as substance abuse treatments.

It would also eliminate 700 billion dollars worth of taxes over a decade, largely on wealthier people and medical companies - money that Mr Obama's law used to expand coverage.

It would cut Medicaid, which provides health insurance to more than 70 million poor and disabled people, by 772 billion dollars through until 2026 by capping its overall spending and phasing out Mr Obama's expansion of the programme.

Of the 22 million people losing health coverage, 15 million would be Medicaid recipients.

The CBO said that average premiums around the country would be higher over the next two years - including about 20%t higher in 2018 than under Mr Obama's statute - but lower beginning in 2020.

The office said that overall, the Senate legislation would increase consumers' out of pocket costs.

That is because standard policies would be skimpier than currently offered under Mr Obama's law, covering a smaller share of expected medical costs.

AP

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