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 AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderOvernight Finance: Trump says shutdown 'could happen' | Ryan, conservatives inch closer to spending deal | Senate approves motion to go to tax conference | Ryan promises 'entitlement reform' in 2018 Senate approves motion to go to tax conference House conservatives, Ryan inch closer toward spending deal MORE (R-Tenn.), who is heading the effort along with Finance Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Ryan pledges 'entitlement reform' in 2018 Utah governor calls Bannon a 'bigot' after attacks on Romney MORE (R-Utah) and Republican Policy Committee Chairman John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoScalise: House, Senate ‘pretty close’ on tax bill Top GOP senator: House and Senate 'not that far apart' on tax bill Sunday shows preview: Republicans take victory lap on taxes MORE (R-Wyo.).

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike EnziMichael (Mike) Bradley EnziMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Live coverage: Senate Republicans pass tax bill The Hill's Whip List: Where Republicans stand on Senate tax bill MORE (R-Wyo.) and Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrSessions argued presidents can obstruct justice in Clinton impeachment trial Trump Jr. to meet with Senate panel amid Russia probe Trump’s Russian winter grows colder with Flynn plea deal 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 CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsNational counterterrorism chief to retire at the end of year Former intel chief Hayden: Think twice on a Trump job offer Counterintelligence needs reboot for 21st century 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 CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerFormer Dem Tenn. gov to launch Senate bid: report McConnell 'almost certain' GOP will pass tax reform Former New Mexico gov: Trump's foreign policy is getting 'criticized by everybody' 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 JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonOvernight Cybersecurity: Panel pushes agencies on dropping Kaspersky software | NC county won't pay ransom to hackers | Lawmakers sound alarm over ISIS 'cyber caliphate' GOP chairman warns of ISIS's ‘cyber caliphate’ Overnight Finance: House approves motion to go to tax conference — with drama | GOP leaders to consider Dec. 30 spending bill | Justices skeptical of ban on sports betting | Mulvaney won't fire official who sued him 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 McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat McConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Brent Budowsky: A plea to Alabama voters 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 CoburnThomas (Tom) Allen CoburnFormer GOP senator: Trump has a personality disorder Lobbying World -trillion debt puts US fiscal house on very shaky ground 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 ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinTrump rips Dems a day ahead of key White House meeting Senate panel moves forward with bill to roll back Dodd-Frank Wealthy outsiders threaten to shake up GOP Senate primaries MORE (W.Va.), Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerSenate panel moves forward with bill to roll back Dodd-Frank Comey back in the spotlight after Flynn makes a deal Warner: Every week another shoe drops in Russia investigation MORE (Va.) and Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampThe Hill's 12:30 Report Avalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign Senate panel moves forward with bill to roll back Dodd-Frank 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.