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Narrow win keeps Obamacare repeal hopes alive

Healthcare debate passes, but Republicans face uphill battle to dump Obamacare

WASHINGTON: After a month-long struggle, Republicans have succeeded in bringing Obamacare repeal legislation, a centrepiece of their 2016 election campaign, to a debate on the US Senate floor.

Now the hard part begins.

Republicans, deeply divided over the proper role of the government in helping low-income people receive healthcare, eked out a procedural win yesterday when the Senate voted 51-50, with Vice-President Mike Pence breaking the tie, to allow debate to start on legislation.

The outcome came as a huge relief to President Donald Trump, who has called Obamacare a "disaster" and pushed fellow Republicans in recent days to follow through on the party's seven-year quest to roll back the law.

But hours later, Senate Republican leadership suffered a setback when the repeal and replace plan that they had been working on since May failed to get enough votes for approval, with nine out of 52 Republicans voting against it.

The Senate yesterday continued a free-wheeling debate that could stretch through the week on undoing major portions of former Democratic President Barack Obama's signature Affordable Care Act, which expanded health insurance to about 20 million people, many of them low-income.

Republican leaders have insisted they can devise a cheaper approach this week and with less government intrusion into consumers' healthcare decisions than Obamacare.

Democrats and other critics of the Republican effort said it would deprive millions of health coverage.

Said Republican Senator John McCain yesterday: "We've tried to do this by coming up with a proposal behind closed doors in consultation with the administration, then springing it on sceptical members, trying to convince them it's better than nothing, asking us to swallow our doubts and force it past a unified opposition.

"I don't think that is going to work in the end. And it probably shouldn't."

The veteran Arizona lawmaker made his remarks after receiving a standing ovation from his colleagues, as he returned to the Senate just days after surgery and being diagnosed with brain cancer.

Mr McCain appealed to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to start over by having a Senate committee, in a bipartisan way, craft new healthcare legislation.

His proposal was promptly ignored.

Healthcare industry organisations are troubled.

"We strongly oppose all plans so far to replace the Affordable Care Act and have no confidence lawmakers can overcome the flaws in these proposals," said America's Essential Hospitals, a group representing hospitals that treat poor people. - REUTERS

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