GOP prepares bill to replace Obama's Supreme Court-bound healthcare law

House Republicans will be ready with a plan to replace President Obama’s healthcare law once the Supreme Court determines the law’s fate this summer, Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) told reporters Wednesday.

Republicans have made good on their promise to try to repeal Obama’s healthcare law, but the “replace” part of their “repeal and replace” strategy has proved more difficult. Pitts said Republicans will be ready for the opening a Supreme Court ruling will provide — no matter what the justices decide.

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If the court strikes down the law’s individual mandate, or the entire law, the GOP can present its plan as an alternative. If the court upholds the mandate, renewed attention to the issue could still give Republicans an election-season opening to argue that they have a concrete agenda on healthcare.

“We’ll have a window of opportunity with everyone looking to explain that the Affordable Care Act is not fully implemented yet. … We’ll use that opportunity and that window to discuss the full ramifications of the Affordable Care Act,” Pitts said.

Pitts, who chairs the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Health subcommittee, said he does not expect the court to strike down the entire law — just the mandate.

The Republican plan will not preserve one of Obama’s most politically popular reforms: the requirement that insurers cover people who have pre-existing conditions. Some Republicans have said in the past that it would be difficult to walk away from that provision. But Pitts said the GOP will instead propose state-based pools in which the government would take over the cost of the sickest, most expensive patients, rather than requiring private insurers to cover them.

The rest of the plan Pitts outlined draws from long-standing GOP priorities. It will include limits on medical malpractice suits and allow the sale of insurance across state lines, Pitts said, while also expanding the use of health savings accounts.

The Supreme Court is expected to rule on Obama’s healthcare law in June. Until then, Pitts said, the Energy and Commerce Committee will keep trying to chip away at the law. The House will vote next week to repeal the CLASS program, an attempt to provide insurance for long-term care that the Obama administration has abandoned.

Pitts said the committee will also send a bill to the floor this spring to repeal the Independent Payment Advisory Board, an expert panel tasked with cutting Medicare payments to doctors. Energy and Commerce could also renew its push to roll back a piece of the new law that prohibits states from cutting their Medicaid eligibility until 2014, when Medicaid is set to expand.

Oversight hearings are likely on the administration’s approach to defining “essential” health benefits.

Aside from healthcare reform, the panel is hoping to have a major Food and Drug Administration reauthorization on Obama’s desk by June 30 — ahead of the September deadline at which the last reauthorization expires.

The measure will renew user fees that the drug and medical device industries pay to the FDA when it reviews new products. Talks between the agency and the device industry aren’t going well, but Pitts said the committee will move ahead as planned.

The FDA bill is also a likely vehicle for addressing shortages of some prescription drugs, Pitts said.