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WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, on Friday defended controversial remarks he made a day earlier during a marathon hearing on the House Republican plan meant to replace the Affordable Care Act.

Shimkus, a West Point graduate, also disclosed that he is no longer in the running to be secretary of the Army. Military Times had earlier reported he was one of four current or former Republican congressmen up for the position.

And as for comments he made about men having to pay for prenatal care under the Affordable Care Act, Shimkus said it's no different than what he has been saying for six years.

"I said that, in essence, a 24-year-old male shouldn't have to pay for maternity and newborn care in his personal insurance coverage. Or a 63-year-old couple shouldn't be forced by the government to have as a part of their health care package maternity and newborn care," Shimkus said.

Under the Affordable Care Act, maternity and contraception coverage are among 10 mandatory services that all health plans must cover.

House Republicans' new health care plan doesn't change that coverage, although some Republicans — including Seema Verma, President Donald Trump's nominee to head the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services — have suggested that maternity services should be optional.

"It's absolutely realistic. Why would you force someone to pay for something they're not going to use?" Shimkus said Friday. "That's the main reason why health care costs are going up. The whole idea is to — and we had this before Obamacare — (provide) insurance packages that people can afford and that they could purchase. What has happened now is the government says you can purchase one of four policies, and they're unaffordable.

"You're forced to pay for them, and then you can't use them because the deductible is too high. So how do you get the young, vibrant new people into the market? You sell them policies that they can use."

In a hearing of his Energy and Commerce Committee, Shimkus got into a debate with Democratic Rep. Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania over his objections to Obamacare requirements.

"What mandate in the Obamacare bill does he take issue with?" Doyle asked Shimkus.

"What about men having to purchase prenatal care?" Shimkus responded.

The exchange prompted criticism of Shimkus in social media, newspaper coverage and online media.

"A few reasons why men should pay for prenatal care," was the headline on a Chicago Tribune column.

"Republicans take aim at men paying for prenatal care," was the title on an MSNBC story.

Shimkus said as of early afternoon Friday, he was unaware of the news coverage, some of which mocked him.

"I haven't paid attention. When I get a chance to read them, maybe I'll have a different take," he said. "What's written after the fact is just stuff I can't control. I didn't think it was very controversial at all. It's not different than anything I've been saying for six years."

He said so-called a la carte coverage "is the way insurance companies were before Obamacare. Obamacare said that you can only sell to the individual consumer one of only four kinds of insurance products. That's like saying to Americans you can only buy one of four types of cars."

He said he expects the full House to vote on the Obamacare replacement in two weeks.

Shimkus said he is determined to repeal and replace Obama's health care law.

"In my district, it's clear that we want repeal and replace," Shimkus said. "One of the main reasons Republicans got a majority in the House (in 2010) was Obamacare and cap and trade. We know that.

"Four years ago, Republicans got the Senate, primarily because of the failures of Obamacare. And one of the reasons Trump became president is the failure of Obamacare.

"We know we have to do something about Obamacare."

Columnist

Tom Kacich is a columnist and the author of Tom's Mailbag at The News-Gazette. His column appears Sundays. His email is tkacich@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@tkacich).