Overnight Healthcare: GOP talk shifts from replacing ObamaCare to repairing it | HHS pick advances after rules change

Overnight Healthcare: GOP talk shifts from replacing ObamaCare to repairing it | HHS pick advances after rules change
© Greg Nash

Key Republican lawmakers are shifting their goal on ObamaCare from repealing and replacing the law to the more modest goal of repairing it.

It's a striking change in rhetoric that speaks to the complexities Republicans face in getting rid of the Affordable Care Act. Many of the law's provisions are popular, and some parts of the law that the GOP does want to repeal could have negative repercussions on the parts seen as working.

"I'm trying to be accurate on this that there are some of these provisions in the law that probably will stay, or we may modify them, but we're going to fix things, we're going to repair things," House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.), a key player on healthcare, told reporters Tuesday.

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"There are things we can build on and repair, there are things we can completely repeal," he said.

Senate Health Committee Chairman Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderSenate panel rejects Trump funding cuts on Energy Department programs Governors-turned-senators meet to talk healthcare With healthcare bill derailed, GOP wonders: What now? MORE (R-Tenn.) is sounding a similar note. He notes that Republicans plan to use special budget rules known as reconciliation to prevent Democrats from filibustering a vote to repeal ObamaCare. The use of those rules won't allow all of ObamaCare to be repealed.

"I think it is more accurate to say repair ObamaCare because, for example, in the reconciliation procedure that we have in the Senate, we can't repeal all of ObamaCare," Alexander said. "ObamaCare wasn't passed by reconciliation, it can't be repealed by reconciliation. So we can repair the individual market, which is a good place to start."

Not everyone is on board with the new rhetoric.

Read more here: http://bit.ly/2kSUjaa

Panel advances HHS nominee over Dem boycott

Senate Republicans pushed through a pair of President Trump's Cabinet nominees Wednesday, upending standard committee rules to circumvent a Democratic boycott.

The Senate Finance Committee advanced a pair of Trump's nominees with only Republican members present -- Steven Mnuchin to head the Treasury Department, and Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) as secretary of Health and Human Services.

By unanimous consent, the Republicans gathered in the hearing room agreed to change the committee's standing rules, which normally require at least one member of each party to be in attendance for committee work to proceed.

"It's just another way of roughing up the president's nominees," said committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). "They have been treated fairly. We have not been treated fairly."

Republicans made the unusual move after Democrats refused to attend a vote on the nominees for two days running, arguing the pair had made misleading statements to lawmakers that needed to be rectified.

The nominees now head to the Senate floor, as partisan tensions over filling out Trump's White House continued to intensify.

Read more here: http://bit.ly/2jDj3xO

Hatch: All ObamaCare taxes 'need to go'

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) is calling for all of ObamaCare's taxes to be repealed, a potentially key moment in an internal Republican debate on the issue.

"We need to definitively answer the question about what to do with the ObamaCare taxes," Hatch said in a speech at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday. "Some have argued that we should keep all or some of them in place and use them to pay for our eventual replacement package."

But Hatch rejected that idea.  

"My view is this: After spending seven years talking about the harm being caused by these taxes, it's difficult to switch gears now and decide that they're fine so long as they're being used to pay for our healthcare bill," Hatch said.

"All of the ObamaCare taxes need to go as part of the repeal process."

Read more here: http://bit.ly/2krCj5O

Health chair: Congress may need to aid insurers during ObamaCare transition

A top Republican lawmaker indicated Wednesday that Congress might have to provide financial assistance to insurance companies to keep the individual market from collapsing during the transition away from ObamaCare.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, said Republicans might have to step outside of their comfort zone soon to prevent insurers from bailing out of the market and leaving millions without healthcare.

"What we're told is if we don't act by March or April, is that in many states there won't be an insurance company there to sell you insurance," Alexander said Wednesday at a HELP hearing focused on ObamaCare.

"It's also an area where Republicans are going to have to do some things we may not normally do, like cost sharing or reinsurance. We may not like those things, but we may have to do those things for the next two to three years to make sure people can buy insurance."

Insurance experts at the hearing warned lawmakers that the insurance market could collapse without continued cost sharing and reinsurance payments. The payments compensate insurers for offering discounts to low-income enrollees and for taking on sick, costly patients.  

Read more here: http://bit.ly/2kTjLsy

Freedom Caucus members meet with senators on ObamaCare replacement

Members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus met separately with Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) this week to discuss the senators' ObamaCare replacement plans.

The Freedom Caucus has been a vocal proponent of having a replacement plan ready to pass at the same time as repeal, with its members searching for a plan by meeting with the two senators, each of whom have put forward bills.

The meeting with Cassidy, which came on Tuesday, is especially noteworthy given that Cassidy's plan is perhaps the most centrist plan that a Republican has put forward so far. The Freedom Caucus's members, in contrast, are among the House's most conservative lawmakers.

Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the chairman of the Freedom Caucus, said that the Cassidy plan is not conservative enough, but that he appreciated Cassidy putting ideas on the table.

"Obviously it's not as conservative as many of us would like," Meadows said.

Read more here: http://bit.ly/2ktudcO

GOP chairman: Drug prices 'high on our agenda'

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) said Tuesday that dealing with drug prices will be "high on our agenda."

The comments come after Walden attended a meeting at the White House earlier in the day with President Trump and the CEOs of several major drug companies, at which Trump pressed the companies to bring their prices down.

However, Walden pointed to solutions that are less far-reaching than what Democrats and Trump have proposed, such as allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices. Instead, Walden said there could be legislation to speed up the Food and Drug Administration's approval process for new competitors to drugs that lack competition. Read more here. http://bit.ly/2ktpc41

Council for Affordable Health Coverage makes ObamaCare recommendations

The coalition of insurers, business groups and others outlined recommendations on ObamaCare, such as widening age rating bands, expanding the use of Health Savings Accounts, and granting more flexibility to states. Read the report here.   

What we're reading:

ObamaCare's slow and painful death puts health insurers in limbo (Bloomberg)

Pressure mounts on Cleveland Clinic to cancel fundraiser at Trump resort (Stat)

Trump's refugee ban is a matter of life and death for some, including a 1-year-old with cancer (Washington Post)

State by state:

Hawaii tries to save what it can of ObamaCare (NBC)

GOP lawmakers OK bill to defund Planned Parenthood in Iowa (Associated Press)