WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford is officially taking the conservative lead in the House of Representatives on legislation to replace the 2010 health law known as Obamacare.
The South Carolina Republican's bill won the endorsement of the House Freedom Caucus, a contingent of roughly 40 conservative hardliners. Sanford is a member.
It's not considered easy to get the group to collectively commit to a formal position on a bill or policy, as at least 80 percent of the caucus must be in agreement.
During a press conference to announce the legislation Wednesday, Sanford demurred when handed credit. His version is a close companion to the Senate measure crafted by U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who was on hand at the afternoon event alongside other Freedom Caucus members.
"This is not my bill," Sanford said. "This is, in essence, a work of the Freedom Caucus." Sanford has been working with colleagues to build consensus around Paul's framework.
"The Freedom Caucus is built around this notion of maximizing individual liberty and freedom, and I think this is what this bill does," he added. "You think about this notion of advancing the hallmark of the American experiment, it's individual freedom, and one of the places where we don't have that right now is healthcare."
The bill incorporates several popular conservative ideas. It would allow health insurance customers the ability to purchase policies across state lines, and allows them to make unlimited contributions to health savings accounts that help pay for prescriptions, premiums and deductibles.
It would give states more flexibility to change their Medicaid programs, and it eliminates the existing “essential health benefits requirement” which mandates insurance companies cover certain benefits, including mental health treatment, hospitalizations and surgeries.
The proposal would also require health insurers to provide coverage to customers with pre-existing conditions — one of the Affordable Care Act's more popular selling points — as long as those customers maintained continuous coverage.
The Freedom Caucus's endorsement marks a turning point in the Republicans' debate over how to replace, not just repeal, the President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act.
It also could put the conservative wing of the GOP in conflict with party leaders and their loyalists, as they seek to build a broader base of consensus around a replacement bill.
Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, R-N.C., supports Sanford's bill.
Lauren Sausser contributed to this report from Charleston.