U.S. Republicans wrestle with effort to gut Obamacare

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By Susan Cornwell | WASHINGTON

WASHINGTON Republicans in Congress struggled on
Thursday with their efforts to dismantle Obamacare, with
conservatives urging haste while some lawmakers said the task
had become more of a repair job than the repeal of the U.S.
healthcare law promised by President Donald Trump’s
administration.

Two influential conservatives in the House of
Representatives, worried that the process was getting bogged
down, said the repeal measure that the Republican-majority
Congress passed last year should be taken up quickly.

But in the Senate, Republican Lamar Alexander of Tennessee
and chairman of the health committee, counseled patience. He
said changes to the law would be made in “chunks” and would be
better labeled a “repair.”

“It’s more accurate to talk about repairing it … we’re
repairing the damage Obamacare has done,” Alexander said outside
the Senate.

“We’re not repealing all of Obamacare, it’s not technically
possible to do that (now) in the procedures that we have in the
Senate, and secondly, there are some parts of it we want to
keep,” he said.

Trump and congressional Republicans campaigned on a promise
to dismantle the 2010 Affordable Care Act, former President
Barack Obama’s signature domestic legislation that Republicans consider federal government overreach.

While Republicans voted last month to start the process of
scrapping the law, they missed a target date of Jan. 27 to begin
drafting legislation to do so. At a congressional retreat last
week, Republican leaders told lawmakers they hoped Congress
would finish the repeal by March or April.

Representative Mark Meadows, chairman of the conservative
Freedom Caucus, and Representative Jim Jordan, the caucus’
former chairman, urged the party leadership on Thursday to
quickly enact a repeal measure.

“That’s what the American people expect us to do – and they
expect us to do it quickly,” they said.

Obama, a Democrat, vetoed the repeal passed by the
Republican-controlled Congress last year.

Three of the biggest national insurers have also stepped up
pressure on the lawmakers to act. Aetna Inc, Anthem Inc and Cigna Corp this week urged changes in
Obamacare individual plan regulations in the next few weeks, in
time for them to decide if they will sell the products in 2018.

They want stricter oversight of eligibility and enrollment
periods, as well as other changes. Without them, these insurers
say they may pull out of the Obamacare exchanges next year,
which would lead to less competition and higher premium rates.
Rates for 2017 rose an average of 25 percent.

Edmund Haislmaier, a Heritage Foundation senior research
fellow who advised the Trump transition team to help craft the
regulation change but has not seen the final version, said he
expected it to address concerns of insurers. He said insurers
were consulted.

“The incoming administration and the insurers have by in
large the same agenda on a lot of this stuff,” said Haislmaier.

He said that pleasing the insurers could help Congress move
more quickly on a plan to repeal and replace the law.

“The (administration) can reassure Republicans that we’re
taking steps so the market doesn’t blow up when you move ahead
with legislation, and I think that would actually maybe move the
process along on the hill,” he said.

Democrats were enjoying the Republican turmoil. They have
long accused Republicans of rushing to gut the law without
having a replacement plan ready. The law has enabled up to 20
million previously uninsured Americans to obtain health
coverage.

“They (Republicans) haven’t come up with the so-called
repairs,” the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat, Dick Durbin of Illinois,
said in a hallway. “What a departure (for the Republicans), from ‘let’s repeal it and walk away from it and America will be a
better place.'” (Additional reporting by Ginger Gibson and Caroline Humer)



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