McConnell: Senate probably moving on from ObamaCare repeal

Camille Fine

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Thursday that the Senate will likely be moving on from ObamaCare repeal next year. 

“Well, we obviously were unable to completely repeal and replace with a 52-48 Senate,” McConnell told NPR. “We’ll have to take a look at what that looks like with a 51-49 Senate. But I think we’ll probably move on to other issues.”

The Senate Republican leader will see his majority shrink to 51-49 once Alabama Democrat Doug Jones is seated in January. 

McConnell told NPR that Republicans have already taken the “heart” out of the health-care law by repealing ObamaCare’s individual mandate in the tax legislation they passed this week.

That echoes remarks from President Trump, who on Wednesday said the tax bill “essentially” repeals ObamaCare.

“When the individual mandate is being repealed, that means ObamaCare is being repealed,” Trump said during a Cabinet meeting at the White House. “We have essentially repealed ObamaCare, and we will come up with something much better.”

McConnell said the Senate would shift its focus next year to stabilizing the insurance markets. He noted the commitments he made to Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) to support passage of two bipartisan bills aimed at shoring up ObamaCare early next year. 

“There will be some adjustments that have to be made. I’ve committed to Sen. Collins, for example, that we can figure a way forward to help her. And she was a supporter of getting rid of the individual mandate, but we want to steady the insurance markets if we can,” he said.

Republicans had talked of returning to ObamaCare repeal in 2018 after their push to repeal the law collapsed in September.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a main author of an ObamaCare repeal and replacement bill this year, quickly pushed back on McConnell’s comments. 

“To those who believe — including Senate Republican leadership — that in 2018 there will not be another effort to Repeal and Replace Obamacare — well you are sadly mistaken,” he tweeted.    

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said earlier this month that he does want to “revisit” ObamaCare, but did not give a timeframe for doing so. 

Still, Ryan and Trump have said the GOP should focus on welfare reform next year, which could put ObamaCare on the back burner.

McConnell said he wants to work on bipartisan issues next year.

A GOP move away from repeal would mean that core elements of ObamaCare, including its subsidies to help people buy coverage and its expansion of Medicaid, would remain in place. 

About 20 million people have gained coverage through ObamaCare when the law’s Medicaid expansion is included. The Trump administration announced Thursday that 8.8 million people had signed up for ObamaCare plans for 2018, nearly matching the last enrollment total. 

The repeal of the individual mandate does take out a core element of the law and one of the least popular aspects of it. Republicans say the move means people will no longer have the burden of a tax when they choose not to buy coverage. 

Democrats and many health-care groups have warned repealing the law’s individual mandate would destabilize markets by removing an incentive for healthy people to sign up.

The GOP’s pivot to stabilizing the markets, though, could help make up for that. A bill from Collins and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), for example, would provide funding aimed at bringing down premiums known as reinsurance. 

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said he spoke with Trump earlier Thursday about that bill and another one — which he sponsored with Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.). — aimed at stabilizing ObamaCare through funding other payments to insurers, and he said the president was supportive.

– This story was updated at 4:02 p.m.

Tags Bill Nelson Donald Trump Lamar Alexander Lindsey Graham Mitch McConnell ObamaCare repeal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act Patty Murray Paul Ryan Susan Collins Susan Collins
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