Senate Republican Leaders Vow to Begin Repeal of Health Law Next Month
THE NEW YORK TIMES
By ROBERT PEAR
DEC. 6, 2016
WASHINGTON — Senate Republican leaders, after meeting with Vice President-elect Mike Pence, said on Tuesday that they would move immediately next month to start repealing the Affordable Care Act, despite qualms among some of their members.
“The Obamacare repeal resolution will be the first item up in the new year,” said Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and majority leader.
Republicans have not fleshed out a plan to replace the 2010 health care law, President Obama’s signature legislative achievement. But on Tuesday they laid out their principles for a replacement plan and said they would try to minimize disruption for the 20 million people who have gained coverage under the law.
Senate Republican leaders appeared to agree with House Republican leaders on a “repeal and delay” strategy, which could keep parts of the health law in place for several years, as Congress works with the administration of Donald J. Trump to devise a replacement.
The Senate Republican strategy would start the repeal process in early January and could defer the effective date for several years, but not all party members were on board.
“They have to be done together,” said Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, referring to efforts to repeal and replace the health law. “We don’t want to have people left out.”
Democrats vowed to fight for preservation of the health law, on which public opinion has been deeply divided for six years.
“Bring it on!” Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the next Democratic leader, said to Republicans. “Just repealing Obamacare, even though they have nothing to put in its place, and saying they’ll do it sometime down the road will cause huge calamity from one end of America to the other.”
Many health policy experts say the law has been beneficial. But Senator John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 3 Senate Republican, said: “It’s well documented, everybody agrees, both Republicans and Democrats, that Obamacare has serious problems. I would say it’s been a failure, and I think the American people agree.”
After repealing the law, Mr. Thune said, Republicans will proceed step by step to develop a replacement, built around four principles: States, not the federal government, should have the primary responsibility for health policy. Patients and doctors should be “in control.” There should be more competition among health plans, so consumers would have more choices. And small businesses should have more discretion and flexibility to configure health benefits for their employees.
After their lunch on Tuesday with Mr. Pence, many Senate Republicans were energized. After the inauguration of Mr. Trump, the schedule will be “very aggressive,” said Senator Michael Rounds, Republican of South Dakota.
But other Republican senators were still mulling their strategy.
Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, suggested that it might make sense to repeal and replace the heath law at the same time, and that there could be pitfalls in deferring a replacement for several years.
“People are trying to figure out the best route,” Mr. Corker said. “It’s not really repeal if it’s still in place for three years.”
Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, a member of the Senate Republican leadership, said Congress would need time to develop a replacement.
“Health care has been driven into the ditch by President Obama and this health care law,” Mr. Barrasso said. “It will take time to get the cart out of the ditch.”
Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, said she supported efforts to repeal and replace the health law, but not Republican efforts to cut off federal funds for Planned Parenthood clinics. Last December, she voted against a budget bill that would have repealed major provisions of the health law because it would also have terminated funds for Planned Parenthood.
“Under the incoming administration, Republicans and Democrats will have a new opportunity to fix Obamacare, and there is a lot to fix,” Ms. Collins said on Tuesday, noting that premiums for health plans on the exchange in her state were increasing an average of 22 percent next year.