- The Washington Times - Monday, January 27, 2014

Republican senators on Monday announced a sweeping plan to fix the most unpopular parts of Obamacare, ditching the individual mandate requiring Americans to have coverage but still offering taxpayer help for those looking to buy policies.

The blueprint from Sens. Richard Burr of North Carolina, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Orrin G. Hatch of Utah would make the state-based health care exchanges optional and would get rid of the minimum coverage requirements that caused millions of Americans to lose their bare-bones plans because of President Obama’s law.

“It’s critical we chart another path forward,” Mr. Coburn said Monday. “Our health care system wasn’t working well before Obamacare and it is worse after Obamacare. Americans deserve a real alternative and a way out.”

The plan is one of several alternatives put forward by Republicans in the past several months. It undoubtedly will face political headwinds as long as Democrats control the Senate and White House, but Republican aides said it is a long-range plan that will attract support from people who feel that Obamacare gives priority to the uninsured at the expense of Americans who already had coverage.

Polling suggests that Americans remain pessimistic about Mr. Obama’s health care overhaul and confused about the law’s deadlines, with roughly two months remaining in the inaugural enrollment period.

Negative perceptions of Obamacare’s rollout have dropped to 66 percent from 75 percent in December, according to an Associated Press-Gfk poll released Monday. Still, only 4 percent said the program was working “extremely well.”

SEE ALSO: If you can’t say anything nice: Positive reviews for Obamacare few and far between

The White House doesn’t appear to be threatened by the latest Republican plan.

Press secretary Jay Carney said Monday that he hadn’t seen the details but criticized it as “just another repeal proposal.”

“Republican energy on this issue has been focused on repeal, focused on, again and again and again, the ideological pursuit that would result in depriving millions of Americans of what are core benefits,” he said.
Democratic critics said the proposal would allow insurers to deny coverage because of pre-existing conditions — something the Affordable Care Act eliminated.

To head off claims that they are neglecting this population, the Republican plan includes a continuity clause that would let people obtain coverage — despite an existing medical condition — if they lose employer-based coverage or another form of insurance and want to regain coverage.

The plan envisions a one-time enrollment period for people who lack coverage and want to move toward continuous coverage.

Republican aides said the plan would not be a panacea for the health care system but would correct perceived pitfalls of Obamacare and make the system fairer and more affordable.

The senators said they issued the plan as a blueprint instead of a bill because they wanted to invite the kind of bipartisan discussion that was missing when Democratic majorities muscled Mr. Obama’s plan through Congress in 2010.

The proposal replaces Obamacare’s optional expansion of Medicaid to people earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level with capped allotments of federal dollars to each state based on the number of most deserving residents — traditionally “moms and kids” — who earn less than the federal poverty level.

Tax credits would be age-adjusted and available to those who earn less than 300 percent of the poverty level.

To pay for the credits, the plan would change what aides said was a “distortion” in the tax code that excluded all of a person’s employer-sponsored health care coverage from taxation. Instead, it would cap the exclusion at 65 percent.

Aides said the change should put downward pressure on premiums. They argued that the full exclusion artificially inflated the rates of increases in health insurance premiums.

Ben Wolfgang contributed to this report.

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