- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 23, 2023

President Biden marked Obamacare’s 13th anniversary on Thursday by highlighting coverage gains and re-engaging with GOP lawmakers who’ve taken cuts to Social Security and Medicare off the table but are eyeing ways to scale back the 2010 health law or place new limits on Medicaid coverage for the poor.

In a speech from the White House, Mr. Biden characterized Republican negotiators as a direct threat to health benefits in the Affordable Care Act, which Democrats muscled to passage in 2010 while Mr. Biden was vice president.

“They’ve been trying to undo the Affordable Care Act ever since it started 13 years ago. They voted to repeal or weaken the act 50 times in the first five years of [its] existence,” Mr. Biden said. “They’re backing plans that would gut it again, gut Medicaid.”

The speech, which was attended by Vice President Kamala Harris, other administration officials and Democratic lawmakers, was part of a series of events and statements marking the anniversary.

Mr. Biden and his allies see the defense of health programs as safe political ground amid negotiations with House Republicans who want spending cuts in exchange for raising the nation’s debt limit.

GOP lawmakers say entitlement programs for seniors — Medicare and Social Security — are not on the chopping block, pivoting the focus to programs like Obamacare or Medicaid.

For years, Republicans have argued for health reforms that target the underlying cost of health care instead of throwing more money at Obamacare subsidies or ballooning Medicaid rolls.

The House Budget Committee targeted supersized Obamacare subsidies in a budgetary framework in February. It wants to “limit Obamacare to its original purpose” by reducing subsidies on the program’s exchanges to earlier levels.

Democrats extended supersized subsidies through 2025 as part of Mr. Biden‘s tax-and-climate legislation last year. The bigger subsidies made the program more attractive and bolstered signups for this plan year.

About 16 million people signed up for private insurance on the law’s portals for this year, compared to 11 million when Mr. Biden took office. Another 22 million have joined Medicaid because the law expanded coverage in most states.

“It is ‘Obamacare,’ and 13 years later we’re proud to say it’s Obamacare for so many people,” Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said at an agency celebration of the law, embracing a term that was used as a pejorative during the fight to pass the law.

On the Medicaid portion, some Republicans are revisiting a 2017 proposal that would phase out the Obamacare funding that allowed states to expand the health insurance program for the poor to those making just above the federal poverty level, according to a recent Politico report. The plan would also cap spending under the program.

At the time, the Congressional Budget Office estimated the plan — which never made it into law during the failed GOP repeal effort — would save taxpayers $880 billion over 10 years but would increase the number of uninsured people by 21 million.

Mr. Becerra pushed in the opposite direction Thursday, saying it is time for nearly a dozen holdout states to accept federal Obamacare funds and expand Medicaid eligibility to slightly above the poverty level.

Mr. Biden challenged the GOP side to formalize its positions.

“They want to negotiate. I say, ‘I’ve laid down my budget, and now if you lay down yours, let’s negotiate,’” Mr. Biden said. “I don’t know where their budget is.”

Also Thursday, the administration boasted that 30 states, plus the District, are offering a full year of Medicaid coverage to women following pregnancy. Oklahoma was the most recent state to extend postpartum coverage to 12 months instead of the current mandatory period of 60 days, regardless of changes in life circumstances or income.

The program was established by Mr. Biden‘s coronavirus-relief package in 2021 and made permanent in the most recent omnibus spending package.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, Medicaid pays for about four in 10 births in the U.S.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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