U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday urged fellow Republicans to get behind the party's "last best chance" to repeal and replace Obamacare as congressional leaders scrambled to secure enough support ahead of a planned vote next week.
Pence, in an interview on Fox News, said Republicans were close to dismantling the 2010 healthcare law passed by former Democratic President Barack Obama.
"This may well be our last best chance to stop and turn around," he said.
Republicans need 50 votes to pass their latest healthcare overhaul plan before a Sept. 30 deadline in the Senate, where they hold a 52-48 majority. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell intends to bring it to the Senate floor for a vote next week.
President Donald Trump, who has no major legislative wins since taking office in January and is eager to make good on a campaign promise, supports the measure, introduced by Senators Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy. (For a Factbox on the plan see)
With no Democratic support for the bill, Republicans remain a handful of votes short. Senator Rand Paul opposes it and at least five others are undecided: Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Dan Sullivan, John McCain and Jerry Moran.
A number of governors - both Republicans and Democrats - oppose the plan, saying it would curb needed funds, impose an unknown system of coverage and strip coverage from vulnerable patients.
Health insurers, hospitals, healthcare industry groups and consumer advocates have also come out against it, instead urging a bipartisan fix to the current law.
Several Republicans defended the measure on Thursday, saying they must make good on their years-long campaign promise to undo Obamacare and that their alternative would empower states.
They pointed to current problems with Obamacare. Although Democrats have said they want to fix the current law, a number of Republican senators said the Graham-Cassidy plan is the only option now.
"This doesn't fix everything with Obamacare," Republican Senator Jeff Flake told MSNBC. "It can't. We're going to have to do that with a bipartisan bill. This is the first step."
Republican Senator Ron Johnson was asked on MSNBC if people would lose coverage or face rising premiums under the plan.
"There are no guarantees," he said.
In July, a Senate vote on a repeal-and-replace bill ended in a stinging 49-51 defeat for Republicans as Collins, McCain and Murkowski voted against it.
(Reporting by Susan Heavey and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Bill Trott)