Senate GOP plots plan B for ObamaCare

Senate Republicans are preparing a legislative plan of action in case the Supreme Court strikes a major blow against ObamaCare and rules subsidies provided to people on the federal exchange are illegal.

GOP senators are confident the justices will rule in their favor, and they want to be ready to act if millions of people lose their subsidies to buy insurance through the healthcare law.

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“If the Supreme Court were to say the law says what the law says, we would like to be ready with a response to that that makes practical sense for the 5 or 6 million Americans who would be affected,” said Sen. Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderOvernight Healthcare: Senate rejects repeal-only ObamaCare plan | Ads target Heller, Capito over vote | Dem says ObamaCare repeal effort moving US 'toward single-payer' Senate rejects repeal-only ObamaCare plan Senate delays vote on healthcare repeal MORE (R-Tenn.), who is heading the effort along with Finance Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin HatchRyan drops border-tax proposal as GOP unifies around principles Trump triggers storm with transgender ban Kerry on Trump’s military transgender ban: ‘We’re better than this’ MORE (R-Utah) and Republican Policy Committee Chairman John BarrassoJohn BarrassoLive coverage: Senate begins debate on ObamaCare repeal What Trump can do to cripple ObamaCare Top Republican: Senate will vote to proceed to House healthcare bill MORE (R-Wyo.).

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike EnziMike EnziLive coverage: Senate debates repealing ObamaCare Overnight Finance: House votes to repeal arbitration rule | Yellen, Cohn on Trump's list for Fed chief | House passes Russia sanctions deal | GOP centrists push back on border wall funding Senators urge quotas on Canadian lumber, consultations with Congress MORE (R-Wyo.) and Sen. Richard BurrRichard BurrKushner says he did not collude with Russia, had no improper contacts Dems slam Trump for 'stonewalling' oversight efforts Burr: Nunes 'created' unmasking allegations against Rice MORE (R-N.C.) are also participating. 

The legislative plan could also be a plan B for repealing the entire law, which looks unlikely as long as President Obama is in the White House.

“It just makes no sense not to have a viable alternative there as a plan B,” said Sen. Dan CoatsDan CoatsIntelligence chairman accuses Obama aides of hundreds of unmasking requests Overnight Cybersecurity: Kushner says no collusion, improper contacts with Russia | House poised to vote on Russia sanctions | U.S., Japan to beef up cyber cooperation Trump intel chief: No agencies dispute Russian election meddling MORE (R-Ind.).

He said plan A is to vote to repeal the law but acknowledged “it’s hard to see it succeeding.”

The Supreme Court announced in November that it would hear arguments for the case King v. Burwell, in which plaintiffs contend the text of the 2010 Affordable Care Act does not allow the federal government to give subsidies for people to buy insurance in states that have not set up their own exchanges.

“The courts are likely to decide against ObamaCare. The language is totally unambiguous. I don’t see how they can ignore the unambiguous language that is clear-cut,” said Hatch.

He said Republicans must be ready to put forth their own ideas for dealing with people who are stripped of subsidies once the court rules.

“It does mean that we’ll have to resolve the problems that result from that. I don’t think there’s going to be a simple one-page amendment to resolve it,” he said.

“I’m going to attend the beginning meetings to see if there’s a way forward,” said Sen. Bob CorkerBob CorkerSenate sends Russia sanctions bill to Trump's desk GOP senators: House agreeing to go to conference on ObamaCare repeal Republicans get agreement on Russia, North Korea sanctions MORE (R-Tenn.). “If in June the Supreme Court were to rule the way most of us think they will or could or should, obviously we need to be prepared and we need to be talking about what we believe those solutions to be in advance.” 

While Alexander said the group will be open to other Republican senators, some are still waiting for an invitation. 

Sen. Ron JohnsonRon JohnsonRyan assures GOP senators House will go to conference Overnight Healthcare: Four GOP senators threaten to block 'skinny' repeal | Healthcare groups blast skinny repeal | GOP single-payer amendment fails in Senate Four GOP senators threaten to block ‘skinny’ repeal MORE (R-Wis.) said he would like to participate but added “they have to let me in.”

The Supreme Court is expected to hear oral arguments in March and issue a ruling in June. The decision could bar federal subsidies in the 34 states that did not create their own insurance exchanges.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled in July that the federal government could provide subsidies in states without their own exchanges, while a three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled for the challengers. The full D.C. Circuit, however, decided to rehear the case.

A spokeswoman for Barrasso said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellGOP senators: House agreeing to go to conference on ObamaCare repeal Ryan drops border-tax proposal as GOP unifies around principles Pence raises million for PAC at fundraiser: report MORE (R-Ky.) asked her boss to form the healthcare working group with Alexander — chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee — and other senators.

“They are considering a variety of healthcare ideas that will lower costs and improve care for Americans,” said Emily Schillinger, Barrasso’s aide.

Alexander said the guiding principle is to let people keep their health insurance plans if they like them, but it may not be an easy task if the federal government is barred from providing subsidies in some states.

He said if people decide to keep the plan they have, they would have to pay for it.

“If they couldn’t afford it, then they could go to a different, less expensive policy that they could afford,” he said.

The specifics need to be hammered out.

“We don’t have a proposal yet. We have a goal to repair the damage of ObamaCare,” he said. “We’re a few weeks away from that.”

One possible option is the Care Act, unveiled by Hatch, Burr and then-Sen. Tom CoburnTom CoburnThe more complex the tax code, the more the wealthy benefit Congress, stop using our nation's military policy for political purposes Congress must rid itself of political 'pork' to preserve its integrity MORE (R-Okla.) a year ago.

The bill’s sponsors say it would create new protection for Americans with pre-existing conditions, help small businesses and individuals with purchasing power, limit medical malpractice lawsuits, cap the tax exclusion for employer-provided health coverage and make other reforms.

Under their proposal, a continuous coverage provision would protect individuals with pre-existing condition. People could not be denied coverage because of a health problem as long as they remain continuously enrolled in a health plan without a significant break in coverage, according to a summary provided by the sponsors.

Democrats panned the proposal at the time.

Jeremy Funk, spokesman for Americans United for Change, an advocacy group allied with Democrats, said the continuous coverage proposal was taken from Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign and would leave tens of millions of people without insurance.

“Making it legal again for big insurance to discriminate against and deny coverage to 89 million Americans with pre-existing conditions is not an alternative, it’s a joke,” Funk said after the proposal’s introduction.

A group of centrist Democrats including Sens. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinOvernight Healthcare: Four GOP senators threaten to block 'skinny' repeal | Healthcare groups blast skinny repeal | GOP single-payer amendment fails in Senate GOP single-payer amendment fails in Senate Dems don’t want to help GOP improve repeal bill MORE (W.Va.), Mark WarnerMark WarnerBoth sides of the aisle agree — telemedicine is the future Google announces million initiative for displaced workers Overnight Tech: House GOP wants to hear from tech CEOs on net neutrality | SEC eyes cryptocurrency | Elon Musk, Zuckerberg trade jabs over AI | Trump says Apple opening three plants in US MORE (Va.) and Heidi HeitkampHeidi HeitkampOvernight Healthcare: Four GOP senators threaten to block 'skinny' repeal | Healthcare groups blast skinny repeal | GOP single-payer amendment fails in Senate GOP single-payer amendment fails in Senate Regulatory experts push Senate leaders for regulatory reform MORE (N.D.) last year introduced ObamaCare reforms.

One proposal was to provide a new high-deductible health insurance option known as the Copper Plan that would cost less while still meeting the standards of the Affordable Care Act.

Another idea was to give small businesses more time to take advantage of healthcare tax credits and expand them to businesses with fewer than 50 employees instead of limiting these benefits to business with fewer than 25 employees.