Republicans ‘don’t want to pull the rug out from anyone’ with Obamacare replacement

Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, spoke to WKRC from Capitol Hill on Feb. 15, 2017. (SBG)

Amid a series of setbacks for the Affordable Care Act, House Republicans said Wednesday that some aspects of the law should be preserved and that the “repeal and replace” they have long promised their constituents must be done carefully.

In the last two days, one major insurance company, Humana, announced it would not be participating in the health insurance exchanges in 2018 and the head of another, Aetna, concurred with critics that the individual marketplace is in a “death spiral.”

Meanwhile, the Trump administration has begun taking steps that would discourage participation the markets by the young, healthy workers that insurers need for the system to become profitable. The exchanges were created by the law, commonly referred to as Obamacare, to provide insurance for millions who do not receive coverage through their employer.

Different Republican factions in Congress have put forth alternatives in recent days but Trump has not yet made clear what his preferred policies are. Many in the GOP have advised against a straight-up repeal of the law without a concrete replacement in mind.

“We don’t want to pull the rug out from anyone,” said Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, a member of the House Doctors Caucus.

“The Affordable Care Act is falling on its own face,” he said, and consumers on the exchanges in some parts of the country may have no options at all next year. His caucus is committed to ensuring that patients have access to health care.

“To me, it would be abandonment of patients if we don’t do something,” he added.

Rep. Tom Rice, R-S.C., offered a similarly dire prediction for the future of Obamacare if Republicans do not repeal it.

“Whether we do it or not, it’s going down,” he said. “It’s a failure and it’s in a death spiral. It’s going down in flames before us.”

He also urged caution, though, pointing to the hundreds of thousands who were kicked off their insurance when the Affordable Care Act set new minimum standards for coverage, despite President Obama’s promise that those who liked their plans would be able to keep them.

“We can’t leave people in a lurch like the Democrats did when they adopted Obamacare,” he said.

Democrats dispute this apocalyptic vision of the health insurance market, contending that double-digit premium hikes in 2017 were a one-time adjustment. They also point to the current record low percentage of Americans uninsured because of the law.

Republicans counter that the insurance plans many patients have enrolled in carry high premiums and deductibles that make them too expensive to actually use.

Voters unhappy with the ACA should not expect the system to change rapidly even after a repeal bill passes, according to Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Ark.

“It took several years for Obamacare to be implemented and it will take time to unwind it,” he said.

Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., emphasized that there are positive things the law accomplished that Republicans should not simply discard.

“It’s clear that it didn’t work, but it’s also clear there were problems with the market before it was passed,” he said.

Allowing children to stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26 and offering plans that provide unlimited benefits are two provisions he wants to retain.

“There are a lot of things we can do to make the market better than it was before the Affordable Care Act was passed,” he said.

Scott also planned to testify at a hearing Thursday about eliminating an antitrust exemption in place for insurance companies.

He offered a suggestion to his Republican colleagues to depolarize the debate over the law in an increasingly partisan country.

“Let’s start calling it the Affordable Care Act and stop calling it Obamacare to get the personalities out of it,” he said.

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