Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday touted the American Health Care Act as a solution to the rising premium costs and insurer exits from marketplaces, telling HHS employees that Obamacare is in a "death spiral."
Pointing to recent CMS data showing Affordable Care Act exchange enrollment was declining, Pence told HHS employees that the Trump administration is committed to repealing and replacing the healthcare law. The administration is motivated by Americans' stories about how coverage has become unaffordable since the ACA rollout.
Pence told HHS staffers during remarks at the agency's headquarters about a woman he met last weekend who said she went without healthcare coverage last year so she could buy Christmas presents for her family.
"I told her help is on the way," Pence said.
Although the Congressional Budget Office has calculated that 23 million people will ultimately lose coverage under the Republican bill, Pence said the CMS' data shows the ACA is doing more harm than good.
On Monday, the CMS revealed that nearly 2 million people dropped Obamacare coverage through mid-March.
Those findings were followed hours later by another report from the CMS that revealed that nationwide, 47 counties are projected to have no coverage options on the exchanges for 2018. It also projected that as many as 1,200 counties, nearly 40% of counties nationwide, could have only one issuer in 2018.
"Obamacare is failing, and you would have to be blinded by partisanship to believe otherwise," Pence said. "This is a death spiral."
Pence praised the passage of the American Health Care Act by the House in May and said the administration is pleased with the Senate efforts to improve that legislation, though he didn't provide specifics.
The vice president and Trump had lunch with senators at the White House on Tuesday to receive an update on the AHCA's progress.
The Senate's legislative process has been shrouded in secrecy, with Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) telling reporters Monday that isn't a formal bill yet, rather a series of ideas. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said he wants to vote before the July 4 recess.
Unlike the House, Senate leaders are reportedly insisting that the Congressional Budget Office score their bill before that vote, making the prospect of a vote taken place soon seem less certain.
To hasten the scoring process, staffers working on the bill have been reportedly been passing draft language to CBO staff section by section.
Even if a vote takes place by month's end, it's unclear if McConnell will have the votes necessary to pass the bill. Conservative and moderate Republicans are divided over when Medicaid expansion should be phased out or how generous insurance tax credits for consumers should be.
Despite these challenges, maintaining the status quo is not an option, according to HHS Secretary Tom Price, who also spoke Tuesday and introduced Pence.
"The situation right now in many areas is simply unacceptable," Price said. "Getting us to a health system where every American is able to afford quality healthcare and coverage is not an easy task, but getting us there is a goal each and every one of us shares."