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White House officials offer change to health care bill

The White House has made a new offer to conservative Republicans on the party's failed health care bill in an effort to resuscitate a measure that crashed spectacularly less than two weeks ago.

Vice President Mike Pence and two top White House officials made the offer in a closed-door meeting with members of the House of Representatives' Freedom Caucus, according to a participant. Opposition from the hard-line group, which has around three dozen conservative Republicans, contributed to circumstances that forced House Speaker Paul Ryan to withdraw the bill from a March 24 vote that would have produced a certain defeat.

Under the White House offer, states would be allowed to apply for waivers from several coverage requirements that President Barack Obama's 2010 health care law imposed on insurers.

These include an Affordable Care Act provision prohibiting insurance companies from declining to write policies for people with serious diseases. Conservatives have argued that such requirements have the effect of inflating insurance costs.

Freedom Caucus members said they wanted to see the White House offer in writing - which is expected on Tuesday - before deciding whether to accept it.

Also at Monday's meeting were White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and budget director Mick Mulvaney.

Another participant - Freedom Caucus chairman Rep. Mark Meadows - said the group would make no decisions until it reviews the language but called the session a "good meeting" in a text message.

But Mr Meadows also said, "There is no deal in principle" at this time.

It was unclear whether Republican moderates would accept the proposed changes. When Mr Ryan pulled the legislation from the House last month, he also faced opposition from moderate Republican lawmakers upset that it went too far with cuts in Medicaid coverage for the poor and higher premiums for many low earners and people in their 50s and 60s.

Rep. Tom MacArthur, a leader of the moderate House Tuesday Group, was among moderate lawmakers who met with officials at the White House on Monday, a Republican aide said.

The Freedom Caucus has drawn the most wrath from the White House for its opposition to the bill. Some fellow House Republicans have also criticised members of the conservative group, accusing them of inflexibility that led to the downfall of the bill to replace "Obamacare," a top Republican legislative priority.

Six days after the House bill crashed, Mr Trump tweeted that the Freedom Caucus "will hurt the entire Republican agenda" if they don't start cooperating. He added, "We must fight them" in 2018, a reference to their re-election campaigns.

Several caucus members, who tend to represent safely Republican districts, tweeted back defiantly. But some have stressed a desire to move the legislation along if provisions are added that they believe would contain insurance costs.

AP

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