Congress repeals ObamaCare mandate, fulfilling longtime GOP goal

Congress repeals ObamaCare mandate, fulfilling longtime GOP goal
© Getty Images

The House followed the Senate on Wednesday in voting to repeal ObamaCare's individual insurance mandate, fulfilling a longtime GOP goal targeting the health-care law.

The repeal, which now heads to President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump cites tax cuts over judges as having biggest impact of his presidency Trump cites tax cuts over judges as having biggest impact of his presidency Ocasio-Cortez claps back at Trump after he cites her in tweet rejecting impeachment MORE's desk, is the first major legislative victory for Republicans to strike down a provision of the law.

Gutting the mandate that Americans buy insurance or pay a tax penalty has been a target of Republicans in every iteration of their ObamaCare repeal bill this year.

The measure was ultimately included in the GOP's tax overhaul, which passed along party lines this week in the Republican-led House and Senate.

ADVERTISEMENT
“When the individual mandate is being repealed that means ObamaCare is being repealed,” Trump said during a Cabinet meeting at the White House on Wednesday.
 
“We have essentially repealed ObamaCare, and we will come up with something much better," Trump added, saying block grants might be one approach.
 
During a House floor speech Tuesday, Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanIndiana GOP Rep. Brooks says she won't seek reelection Indiana GOP Rep. Brooks says she won't seek reelection Inside Biden's preparations for first debate MORE (R-Wis.) cast the mandate repeal as "finally restoring the freedom to make your own health-care choices."
 
“By repealing the individual mandate at the heart of ObamaCare, we are giving back the freedom and the flexibility to buy the health care that's right for you and your family," he said.
 
The original House bill didn’t include the measure, but Sen. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonGOP senator: Unprovoked attacks on oil tankers 'warrant a retaliatory military strike' GOP senator: Unprovoked attacks on oil tankers 'warrant a retaliatory military strike' Senate rejects effort to block Trump's Qatar, Bahrain arms sales MORE (R-Ark.) pushed the Senate to include a repeal of the mandate — a core element of former President Obama's signature health-care law — in their tax plan.

The move worked, and the final bill agreed to by GOP lawmakers in a conference committee eliminated the mandate.

Many health-care experts and industry groups expressed concern leading up to the final passage of the tax bill, saying repealing the mandate could hurt the stability of the ObamaCare markets, potentially causing premiums to rise and insurers to drop out of the health-care exchanges.

Without the mandate, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that 13 million fewer Americans will have health insurance in 2027 and premiums will rise 10 percent. But it also predicted individual insurance markets will remain stable “in almost all areas of the country throughout the coming decade.”

The individual mandate was included in ObamaCare in part to draw young and healthy people to sign up for insurance in the marketplaces as a way to offset the costs of older and sicker enrollees.

Still, not everyone agrees that the measure has worked as intended, with some saying the mandate hasn’t been as effective as originally thought to entice people to buy health insurance.

“Today, we're turning Obamacare from a mandatory program into a voluntary program and providing additional tax relief for the millions and millions of Americans who have chosen and will choose not to buy a government-mandated product that for them provides not the value that they want,” Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoBipartisan senators propose forcing EPA to set drinking water standard for 'forever chemicals' Bipartisan senators propose forcing EPA to set drinking water standard for 'forever chemicals' Trump hails D-Day veterans in Normandy: 'You are the pride of our nation' MORE (Wyo.), the No. 4 Senate Republican, told reporters on Tuesday.

Republicans voted this week to do away with the mandate after multiple attempts to kill the measure going back years failed, including a turn in front of the Supreme Court, which ruled that the mandate was constitutional in 2012.

On Trump’s first day in office, he signed an executive order broadly permitting agencies to scale back ObamaCare, leading some to wonder if the individual mandate would be weakened. But the Internal Revenue Service has since signaled it would enforce the penalty.

The repeal of the individual mandate provided more than $300 billion in savings for Republicans to use to help pay for the tax bill, the CBO estimated.

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsDemocrats' 2020 Achilles's heel: The Senate Democrats' 2020 Achilles's heel: The Senate The Hill's Morning Report — Uproar after Trump's defense of foreign dirt on candidates MORE (R-Maine) has aired concerns about repealing the mandate, saying she wished the tax bill left health care alone, while reiterating that she has never actually supported imposing the tax penalty for those going uninsured.

“Repealing the individual mandate without other health-care reforms will almost certainly lead to further increases in the cost of health insurance — premiums that are already too expensive under the [Affordable Care Act],” Collins said in a floor speech Monday where she announced her support for the tax bill.

But she’s consistently said she’s received assurances that leadership would support two bills she sees as helping offset the repeal: A measure to stabilize the insurance marketplaces from Sens. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderTaylor Swift thanks Cory Booker for signing Equality Act petition Taylor Swift thanks Cory Booker for signing Equality Act petition Senate health panel to move forward on package to lower health costs next week MORE (R-Tenn.) and Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayCruz, Ocasio-Cortez efforts on birth control access face major obstacles It's time to let Medicare to negotiate drug prices Ocasio-Cortez shares verse by the 'Congressional Destiny's Child' in promotion of new birth control legislation MORE (D-Wash.) and her legislation with Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonHow Jim Bridenstine recruited an old enemy to advise NASA Republicans amp up attacks on Tlaib's Holocaust comments The muscle for digital payment MORE (D-Fla.) to provide money to insurers to offset the cost of the chronically ill.

Alexander and Collins said in a joint statement after the House sent the tax bill to Trump’s desk on Wednesday that they had asked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP nervous that border wall fight could prompt year-end shutdown GOP nervous that border wall fight could prompt year-end shutdown Jon Stewart slams McConnell over 9/11 victim fund MORE (R-Ky.) not to put their legislation in a short-term spending bill, saying they would instead offer it in a larger spending package in early 2018. 

Updated: 1:25 p.m.