House considers elements of ObamaCare replacement

Greg Nash

Republicans have begun considering a handful of bills that could make up part of their plan to replace ObamaCare.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee, a key player in the fight over ObamaCare, is considering legislation that will likely serve as guidance for the GOP as lawmakers seek to dismantle the healthcare law they vowed to repeal.   

The drafts would change ObamaCare provisions related to pre-existing conditions and the age rating, which determines how much older people can be charged for insurance.

Another measure would shorten the “grace periods” for people who fail to pay their premiums.

{mosads}Republicans say the measures aim to lower premiums and expand access to healthcare.

The bills fit into the Republicans’ shift toward “repairing” ObamaCare in a step-by-step fashion, rather than completely repealing the massive healthcare law.

“We want to repair the ACA. I’ve never said repeal without replacing it. It has to be repaired, and we are trying to focus on repairing it, and that is why we are conducting this hearing,” said Rep. Leonard Lance (R-N.J.).

But Democrats out of the gate showed they wouldn’t support the proposals. 

“The bills we are discussing today are supposedly the first pieces of the Republican’s elusive plan,” said Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.), the committee’s ranking Democrat.

“So, essentially, after a seven-year smear campaign on the ACA, they intend to move forward three bills from last Congress that help insurance companies instead of people.”

A measure proposed by Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) would prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage to those with pre-existing conditions but does not limit what insurers can charge.

It also contains a placeholder for a proposal that would encourage “continuous coverage.”

The aspect of continuous coverage is a common feature of Republican plans and provides an alternative incentive to get insurance without ObamaCare’s mandate.

It’s heavily favored by Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and is included in the House GOP’s “Better Way” policy blueprint.

But Democrats dismissed Walden’s measure as a way to help insurance companies’ bottom lines. 

“We know this half-written, half-baked bill put forward by Chairman Walden will allow insurance companies to charge people with pre-existing conditions whatever they want for their coverage,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.).

Democrats also dismissed a measure that would change ObamaCare’s age rating. Currently, insurers can charge older people no more than three times as much as younger people. 

The new measure would change the ratio to five times as much, which supporters argue would allow younger people to get access to cheaper plans. 

“Boy, have you really hit a nerve back in Florida — to ask that our older neighbors … are going to pay a whole lot more for their insurance coverage,” said Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.).

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