Two US congressional panels approve Obamacare replacement bill

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) (C) presides over a markup hearing on the proposed American Health Care Act, the Republican attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare, in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill. Photograph:( AFP )

AFP Washington, United States Mar 09, 2017, 10.52 PM (IST)

Two US congressional panels approved Donald Trump's administration to repeal Obamacare following a heated debate that lasted hours.

The two panels approved the new bill that would replace Obamacare amid protests from Democrats, several major hospitals and medical organisations.

There were grumblings within the Republican party as well, with some calling out Trump to make "major changes" to the bill.

"House health-care bill can't pass Senate w/o major changes," Senator Tom Cotton tweeted early Thursday, joining a host of other Senate Republicans opposed the measure in its current form. 

But approval from the two congressional panels -- House Energy and Commerce Committee -- means the bill will now head to the House Budget Committee.

"Today, the House took a decisive step forward in fulfilling a promise to the American people that has been years in the making: repealing and replacing Obamacare with affordable, patient-centered reforms," Energy and Commerce chairman Greg Walden said.

Tempers frayed overnight during several testy exchanges, including one over military veteran coverage in the proposed legislation and another on its costs -- still unknown because the Congressional Budget Office has yet to "score" the bill.

Republican leaders indicate they want to pass the bill by early April. But that timeline was put in question after House Speaker Paul Ryan said the bill will take three weeks to move through the House, before facing scrutiny in the Senate.

With its future in doubt, Ryan delivered a crisp presentation Thursday in a bid to salvage the plan, but also offered a direct warning to Republicans sitting on the fence.

"This is the closest we will ever get to repealing and replacing Obamacare," he said. "The time is here, the time is now."

The plan suffered a setback Wednesday when several major hospital and medical organizations including the American Medical Association, which represents more than 200,000 doctors, lined up in opposition.

Backers say the legislation would gut Obamacare's mandates to purchase health care, roll back its taxes and stabilize costs.

Republican opponents warn the plan is too similar to Obamacare, and could cost even more.

Democrats, expected to unanimously oppose the bill, say it would leave millions of Americans without coverage.

(WION with inputs from AFP)