GOP lawmakers to get briefing from leaders of ObamaCare replacement effort

GOP lawmakers to get briefing from leaders of ObamaCare replacement effort
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The leaders of the House GOP effort to replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will brief lawmakers at a closed-door meeting Thursday before publicly releasing their plan in June.

The meeting, which will be attended by Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanAmash storm hits Capitol Hill Debate with Donald Trump? Just say no Ex-Trump adviser says GOP needs a better health-care message for 2020 MORE (R-Wis.), marks the first time the task force will lay out a draft of its plan after months of conversations with members, according to a House GOP aide. 

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The plan is expected to include numerous standard Republican health policy ideas — including a controversial proposal to cap the employer tax exclusion for health insurance, according to two Republican lobbyists. 

Democrats have long attacked Republicans for failing to come up with an alternative healthcare plan, but leaders, including Ryan, have promised to produce one that could be taken up by a GOP president next year.

Details of the plan have been mostly kept quiet, but Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce health subcommittee, told The Hill that other elements include allowing insurers to sell across state lines and “beefing up” health savings accounts.

Pitts also floated a tax credit to help people afford coverage and high-risk pools for people with pre-existing health conditions.

Those ideas are similar to a proposal put out by a group of senior Republican lawmakers in the House and Senate last year called the Patient Choice, Affordability, Responsibility and Empowerment (CARE) Act. 

However, the coming plan will not take the form of legislative text but instead will be a “white paper,” Pitts said. That means the plan will not actually be voted on by the House and won't be as specific as a bill would be, making it harder to assess factors like the cost of the plan or how it will affect the number of people with coverage. 

The document of ideas is expected to be released “in the next couple weeks,” House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said Wednesday at an event hosted by The Hill.

A Republican lobbyist said the plan could be sent to the Speaker’s office for review as soon as May 27 and then released publicly in early June. Some lawmakers said they expect the plan to be released in June, but there is no more specific deadline. 

The proposal to start taxing more generous employer health insurance plans is controversial. It could draw objections from unions and businesses that think the idea would cut into benefits, similar to the complaints about ObamaCare’s “Cadillac tax.”

The two proposals are slightly different ways of trying to curb the growth in healthcare spending by removing a distortion in the tax code, which currently does not tax employers’ health insurance plans. Economists say that policy gives employers an incentive to increase healthcare coverage for their workers instead of wages.  

More broadly, Republicans face the problem that ObamaCare, as the ACA is commonly known, is now the status quo, so any proposal to repeal and replace it risks taking coverage away from many of the 20 million people who now have it. 

GOP leaders have promised to keep popular parts of ObamaCare, such as guaranteed coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, but experts warn that could raise financial problems for insurance companies without mandating coverage.

Republicans argue that healthcare costs are rising too steeply under ObamaCare and the primary focus should be on cost control, not coverage expansion.

“The first thing health reform should accomplish is to stabilize or reduce the costs of healthcare,” Pitts said at a hearing on health reform ideas on Wednesday. “The number one complaint people have about healthcare is the rising cost, and yet [the ACA] has done little to decrease healthcare spending.”

Democrats, though, counter that ObamaCare has set in motion a range of programs aimed at making Medicare pay for quality instead of quantity.

Ryan has said he wants the plans on healthcare and other policy areas to be ready for the next president, since they will not be signed into law while President Obama is in office.

“We’ve been working and sitting down, listening to Republican colleagues the last couple of months now,” Upton said at The Hill’s event Wednesday. “The idea has been that whoever our nominee is, so now our nominee Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump rips Dems' demands, impeachment talk: 'Witch Hunt continues!' Nevada Senate passes bill that would give Electoral College votes to winner of national popular vote The Hill's Morning Report - Pelosi remains firm despite new impeachment push MORE, we’re going to have it on the shelf ready for our nominee.”