- The Washington Times - Friday, May 13, 2016

The White House brushed aside a growing list of political and legal threats to its signature health care law on Friday, vowing to pass the torch to Obamacare’s allies so that Americans can seek taxpayer-subsidized coverage for “generations” to come.

White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough extolled the 2010 overhaul and grass-roots aides who have herded millions into the law’s web-based exchanges and will criticize the law’s survival beyond President Obama’s tenure.

Mr. McDonough then scolded critics who have tried to kneecap the reforms through Congress and the courts.

“Despite the efforts to defame, to defund and to discard the Affordable Care Act, the truth is that it has served as a steward of freedom, for it’s liberated millions of Americans from fear and provided them with a peace of mind,” he said at a D.C. summit hosted by Enroll America, a nonprofit that promotes Obamacare.

Roughly 20 million Americans have gained health coverage through the exchanges, where low- and moderate-income consumers can buy plans with the help of federal subsidies and the expansion of Medicaid, the government-run insurance program for the poor, in 31 states and D.C. The law also allowed young adults to stay on their parents’ plans until age 26.

Mr. McDonough spoke optimistically about the years beyond this presidency, predicting the law will not add to deficits and generate “substantial savings that grow and grow over time” by slowing year-to-year growth in health spending.

“We must strengthen and institutionalize the enrollment capacities of our communities so that they are empowered to enroll Americans for months, years and generations to come,” he said.

Yet Republicans say cracks in the law already are showing.

Insurers facing a sicker-than-expected customer base are preparing double-digit rate hikes for Obamacare customers, to be announced in the coming months, handing Republican critics another talking point as they try to sync up with presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump and persuade voters to accept a repeal of the 2010 law.

At the same time, House Republicans are brainstorming ideas for a long-awaited replacement that relies on market incentives and health savings accounts that put patients in charge of their health dollars.

“If everything were working perfectly, then this might be too hard a hill to climb,” said Rep. Michael C. Burgess, Texas Republican. “But even before the court ruling yesterday, I mean we already know that the insurance companies are in desperate difficulty with this thing.”

GOP lawmakers were emboldened by a federal court ruling Thursday that said the administration is unlawfully paying insurers who are required to reduce costs for poorer customers on Obamacare’s exchanges.

U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer, presiding in Washington, said the reimbursements must stop until Congress explicitly permits them, though she stayed that order pending an appeal.

The cost-sharing program reimburses insurers who have reduced co-pays and deductibles for qualified Obamacare enrollees as a condition of participating in the state-based health care exchanges.

Mr. McDonough said the payments are crucial for low-income enrollees, so the Justice Department is working on an appeal.

“We are confident that, when all is said in done, we will prevail in this litigation, as we have done before,” he said.

The Supreme Court has preserved Obamacare’s core twice, finding the law constitutional in 2012 and permitting its subsidies to flow to all states in 2015.

Though the latest case may outlive Mr. Obama’s presidency, it is another headache for an administration trying to put the law on firmer footing in its final eight months.

The Democratic front-runner to succeed him, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, has said she wants to build on Obamacare’s reforms instead of moving away from the law.

She recently offered support for a government-run plan, or “public option,” that would compete with private plans on the Obamacare exchanges. The idea died off during the Obamacare debate in 2009-10, however, after conservative Democrats threaten to block the bill unless it was taken out.



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