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 Alexander13 GOP senators ask administration to pause separation of immigrant families IBM-led coalition pushes senators for action on better tech skills training Dems seek to leverage ObamaCare fight for midterms MORE (R-Tenn.), who is heading the effort along with Finance Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchGOP senators introduce bill to prevent family separations at border Overnight Defense: States pull National Guard troops over family separation policy | Senators question pick for Afghan commander | US leaves UN Human Rights Council Senate GOP tries to defuse Trump border crisis MORE (R-Utah) and Republican Policy Committee Chairman John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoGOP senators introduce bill to prevent family separations at border Overnight Energy: Senate panel sets Pruitt hearing | Colorado joins California with tougher emissions rules | Court sides with Trump on coal leasing program Pruitt to testify before Senate panel in August MORE (R-Wyo.).

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike EnziMichael (Mike) Bradley EnziHouse panel to mark up 2019 budget Overnight Defense: Top general defends Afghan war progress | VA shuffles leadership | Pacific Command gets new leader, name | Pentagon sued over HIV policy Senate GOP urges Trump administration to work closely with Congress on NAFTA MORE (R-Wyo.) and Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrFormer Senate intel aide indicted for perjury makes first court appearance The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by PhRMA — Washington's week of 'we'll see' Former Senate Intel aide indicted in DOJ leak case 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 CoatsGOP senator places hold on Trump counterintelligence nominee Civil liberties groups press Trump administration on NSA call record collection Trump’s ‘Syraqistan’ strategy is a success — and a failure 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 CorkerTrump angers biz groups with 0B tariff threat 13 GOP senators ask administration to pause separation of immigrant families Trump’s midterm suicide plan: Make children cry and mothers mad 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 JohnsonSenate probes FBI's heavy-handed use of redactions to obstruct congressional investigators Hillicon Valley: DHS gets new cyber chief | White House warns lawmakers not to block ZTE deal | White nationalists find home on Google Plus | Comcast outbids Disney for Fox | Anticipation builds for report on FBI Clinton probe Graham jokes about Corker: GOP would have to be organized to be a cult 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 McConnellWarren on family separation policy: Trump is ‘taking America to a dark and ugly place’ Senate GOP tries to defuse Trump border crisis Schumer rejects GOP proposal to address border crisis 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 CoburnMr. President, let markets help save Medicare Pension insolvency crisis only grows as Congress sits on its hands Paul Ryan should realize that federal earmarks are the currency of cronyism 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) ManchinKaine shares photos of child detention facility: ‘The real Trump Hotel’ Manchin becomes final Democrat to back bill preventing separation of immigrant families Manchin touts support for Trump border wall in new ad MORE (W.Va.), Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerWray defends FBI after 'sobering' watchdog report Top Dems: IG report shows Comey's actions helped Trump win election Dem senator: Trump at G-7 made me ‘embarrassed for our country’ MORE (Va.) and Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampPoll: GOP challenger narrowly leads Heitkamp in North Dakota Trump plan to claw back billion in spending in peril Manchin becomes final Democrat to back bill preventing separation of immigrant families 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.