- The Washington Times - Monday, February 2, 2015

Republicans have vowed to be ready with a replacement for Obamacare if the Supreme Court pokes a hole in the signature law later this summer, and will vote in the House Tuesday to both repeal the law and to give themselves a mandate to find the replacement.

Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy tasked a working group of three committee chairmen — Reps. Paul Ryan of Ways and Means, Fred Upton of Energy and Commerce and John Kline of Education and Workforce — to look at a patchwork of GOP proposals and replace Obamacare with “patient-centered” reforms.

Although Republicans haven’t laid out a singular plan, their discussions have focused on scrapping insurance mandates and putting in place provisions that promote individual responsibility for health costs, such as the use of tax-advantaged health savings accounts.

The House group and a parallel group led by Republican Sens. John Barrasso of Wyoming, Orrin G. Hatch of Utah and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee are hoping the Supreme Court, in a decision due by June, strikes down Obamacare’s subsidies in 34 states that rely on the federal exchange, giving GOP reforms an opening.

“We want to make sure the American people know we’re going to be there to help people who are being harmed by the law,” Mr. Barrasso said in a phone interview.

Challengers say the administration is unlawfully doling out tax credits to people who use the federal Obamacare exchange. The law set aside the tax credits for exchanges “established by the state,” which they interpret to mean the portals set up by 16 states and the District of Columbia.

If the justices agree with them, many Obamacare customers in 34 states could find their health coverage unaffordable, forcing the law’s delicate economics into a tailspin.

The White House has been mum about contingency plans to deal with such an outcome, a position that Republicans have deemed irresponsible.

Mr. Barrasso said his working group is homing in on measures that President Obama could be forced to sign if the court pokes a hole in the health law, providing a bridge to large-scale reforms if Republicans take the White House in 2016.

They’re holding formal and informal meetings with their House counterparts — Mr. Barrasso said he spoke to Mr. Ryan on Saturday night — so they have something in hand by June.

Tuesday’s repeal bill, which uses language from a 2011 resolution that also mandated a replacement, says an alternative plan should let people keep their health plans if they like them — a swipe at Mr. Obama’s flawed promise to millions of Americans who forfeited bare-bones plans under his law — and give states the room to run Medicaid how they see fit, according to the bill.

It also calls on the group to scrap what they view as “job-killing” mandates, and instead focus on incentives that encourage personal responsibility for health costs.

While modest efforts to tweak Obamacare have drawn in a handful of Democrats, the repeal bill likely will meet a Democratic filibuster in the Senate, and Mr. Obama has said he will “happily veto” any repeal bill.

“The fact of the matter is the Affordable Care Act is working, and we should not repeal it,” said Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, Virginia Democrat, citing gains in cutting the uninsured rate.

Congressional budget scorekeepers said they could not provide a cost estimate for the House bill because it would take them several weeks to examine the fallout from repealing the labyrinthine law.

Sen. Ted Cruz filed a version in the upper chamber Monday that would repeal Obamacare within six months of passage, giving lawmakers leeway to come up with an alternative.

“It provides time for Congress to start over, to pass true market-based reforms that will allow the purchase of insurance across state lines, expand health savings accounts and make health insurance personal, portable and affordable,” the Texas Republican said.


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