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 AlexanderSenate backs equal pay for female soccer players Overnight Healthcare: Momentum on mental health? | Zika bills head to conference | Only 10 ObamaCare co-ops left Overnight Regulation: GOP slams new Obama education rules MORE (R-Tenn.), who is heading the effort along with Finance Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin HatchTen senators ask FCC to delay box plan An affordable housing solution both parties can get behind Puerto Rico debt relief faces serious challenges in Senate MORE (R-Utah) and Republican Policy Committee Chairman John BarrassoJohn BarrassoSunday shows preview: Bernie soldiers on Overnight Healthcare: House loosens pesticide rules to fight Zika | A GOP bill that keeps some of ObamaCare | More proof of pending premium hikes GOP senator: Obama used Zika money for climate fund MORE (R-Wyo.).

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike EnziMike EnziGOP blocks slate of Obama judicial nominees Overnight Finance: New rules proposed to curb Wall Street pay GOP senator tries to tie 'No budget, no pay' to funding bill MORE (R-Wyo.) and Sen. Richard BurrRichard BurrThe Trail 2016: Hell breaks loose Burr, Ross in statistical dead heat in NC Senate race Senate panel advances spy policy bill, after House approves its own version 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 CoatsDems to GOP: Cancel Memorial Day break GOP senators: Obama bathroom guidance is 'not appropriate' Overnight Defense: House panel unveils 5B defense spending bill 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 CorkerRubio: 'Maybe' would run for Senate seat if 'good friend' wasn't McConnell-allied group: We'll back Rubio if he runs for reelection The Trail 2016: Interleague play 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 JohnsonSunday shows preview: Bernie soldiers on Clinton email headache is about to get worse The Trail 2016: Interleague play 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 McConnellIn House GOP, Ryan endorsement of Trump seen as inevitable McConnell: Trump White House will have ‘constraints’ Nearly 400 House bills stuck in Senate limbo 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 CoburnMcCain: No third-party foes coming for Trump Tough choice for vulnerable GOP senators: Embrace or reject Trump The Trail 2016: Donald and the Supremes 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 ManchinSenators to Obama: Make 'timely' call on Afghan troops levels Dem senator: Sanders ‘doesn’t have a lot of answers’ Groups urge Senate to oppose defense language on for-profit colleges MORE (W.Va.), Mark WarnerMark WarnerNo time to relax: A digital security commission for the next generation Army posthumously awards female veteran who served as WWII spy The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (Va.) and Heidi HeitkampHeidi HeitkampThe Hill's 12:30 Report House Dems urge Senate panel to vote on Ex-Im Bank nominee Senate Dems frustrated over lack of action on Ex-Im Bank nominee 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.