Senate GOP repeals ObamaCare mandate

Senate Republicans have approved the repeal of ObamaCare’s individual mandate as part of their tax-cut bill, a major step toward ending an unpopular part of the health-care law.

“Families ought to be able to make decisions about what they want to buy and what works for them — not the government,” Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoSenate votes to end debate on criminal justice reform bill The Year Ahead: Dems under pressure to deliver on green agenda White House jumps into fight over energy subsidies MORE (R-Wyo.) said, hailing the accomplishment.

“I believe if people don’t want to buy the ObamaCare insurance, they shouldn’t have to pay a tax penalty to the IRS.”

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The Senate tax bill must still be reconciled with House legislation that does not include the mandate’s repeal. But that is unlikely to be a major issue, given support in the GOP conference for repealing the mandate.

No Democrats in either chamber voted for the GOP tax bills.

It’s unclear what repeal of the mandate will mean for ObamaCare.

Many experts and health-care groups warn that repeal will destabilize ObamaCare markets, leading to premium increases or insurers simply dropping out of certain areas. Without a financial penalty under the mandate for lacking health coverage, there is less incentive for healthy people to sign up and balance out the costs of the sick.

Some experts counter that the effects will not be as severe as others say, given that there are doubts the mandate had a strong effect on people to begin with.

Moderate Republicans are now pushing for bipartisan ObamaCare fixes to help stabilize insurance markets, setting up a showdown with conservatives.

The mandate’s repeal was not part of the original tax-reform measure released by the Senate Finance Committee, and Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchThe Hill's Morning Report — What a shutdown would mean for the government GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander won't seek reelection Hatch walks back remarks that he didn't 'care' if Trump broke the law MORE (R-Utah) previously said he wanted to keep the divisive health-care issue separate from taxes.

But President Trump, along with Senate conservatives such as Sen. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonThe FIRST STEP Act will make us safer without the Cotton-Kennedy amendments Senate votes to end debate on criminal justice reform bill The SEC should listen to Sen. Cotton MORE (R-Ark.), made a vocal public push for its inclusion.

Repealing the mandate also saves $300 billion over ten years in subsidies that otherwise would have been spent on consumers, according to the Congressional Budget Office, providing savings for the tax cuts.

The CBO estimates that 13 million fewer people will have health insurance over the next decade without the mandate, and it projects that premiums will rise 10 percent. But it also projects markets will remain stable in “almost all areas of the country.”

While three Republican senators, John McCainJohn Sidney McCainThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Flynn awaits sentencing | White House signals it wants to avoid shutdown Arizona gov taps McSally for McCain Senate seat Michelle Obama reflects on 'refreshing' tradition of sharing candy with George W. Bush MORE (R-Ariz.), Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsGOP lawmakers distance themselves from ObamaCare ruling The Hill's Morning Report — No deal in sight as shutdown looms Bipartisan senators doubt ruling striking down ObamaCare MORE (R-Maine) and Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSenate votes to end debate on criminal justice reform bill When is a deal not a deal? When there’s a wildlife refuge to be exploited House funding bill scraps Arctic icebreaker program MORE (R-Alaska) defeated an ObamaCare repeal bill over the summer that included mandate repeal, this time they put aside their concerns.

Murkowski wrote that repealing the mandate didn’t hurt the structure of the health-care law, but allowed people the “freedom” to choose whether to enroll.

Collins said she had won a commitment from Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellIsrael boycott fight roils Democrats in year-end spending debate Schumer blasts GOP request for immigration 'slush fund' Trump: 'Too early to say' if shutdown will be averted MORE (R-Ky.) to pass two bipartisan ObamaCare fixes before the end of the year. She hopes those bills will counteract the increase in premiums from mandate repeal.

One of the bills, from Sens. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderThe Hill's Morning Report — What a shutdown would mean for the government GOP lawmakers distance themselves from ObamaCare ruling Overnight Health Care — Presented by The National Taxpayers Union — Incoming Dem chairman vows hearings on ObamaCare lawsuit | Sign-up period ends amid new uncertainty | Johnson & Johnson hits back over asbestos report MORE (R-Tenn.) and Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayGOP Sen. Lamar Alexander won't seek reelection VA chief gave inaccurate information during confirmation on his pro-Confederate ties VA senior adviser forced out amid concerns that he was 'getting paid to sit on his couch': report MORE (D-Wash.) funds key payments to insurers, while the other measure provides funding known as reinsurance to pay for some sick people’s claims and help bring down premiums.

The Alexander-Murray bill does not directly deal with the effects of repealing the mandate, and some experts argue there would have to be more reinsurance funding than currently proposed to make up for mandate repeal.

It’s unclear if either fix will actually become law, as House conservatives oppose the measures as propping up ObamaCare.

Rep. Fred UptonFrederick (Fred) Stephen UptonMidterm results shake up national map Overnight Health Care: Medicaid's popularity on the ballot in four red states | GOP in a bind on pre-existing conditions | Pelosi urges Dems to push health message day before midterms Election Countdown: Four days out | Early voting exceeds 2014 numbers in many states | Vulnerable Dems throw their party under the bus | Toss-ups to determine Senate control | 10 House GOP seats most likely to flip | Obama campaigns to preserve his legacy MORE (R-Mich.), a member of the moderate Tuesday Group, said he supports passing Alexander-Murray to try to counteract the premium increases from mandate repeal. But he acknowledged conservatives oppose that move, meaning he thinks the initial House version of a government funding bill will not have the health fix attached.

He thinks the Senate will add it later, setting up a choice for the House.  

“They'll toss it back to us and either you take it like that or you shut the government down,” Upton said.

Trump appears eager to return to the full repeal-and-replace push after the final tax bill passes.

“We will Repeal & Replace and have great Healthcare soon after Tax Cuts!” he tweeted in late October.

GOP leaders have not committed to revisiting the issue in an election year, though Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) said he thought mandate repeal brings full repeal and replacement a step closer.

“I think it's going to make our third attempt at health-care reform easier,” Kennedy said.