GOP looks to blunt Dems’ attacks on rising premiums

GOP looks to blunt Dems’ attacks on rising premiums
© Greg Nash

House Republicans are trying to blunt Democratic attacks over rising ObamaCare premiums, an issue that’s poised to play a key role in the November midterm elections.

The House is planning to vote next week on several GOP-backed health-care measures that supporters say will lower premiums, and passing them could give a boost to some vulnerable Republicans.

Blaming Republicans for rising premiums is a top priority for Democrats heading into the midterms, and Republicans do not want to leave the attacks unanswered.

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“At least we’re taking some action, and rightfully so, because to do nothing I think is just, one, it’s not the right thing to do,” said Rep. Tom ReedThomas (Tom) W. ReedOvernight Health Care — Presented by Partnership for America's Health Care Future — Walmart to stop selling e-cigarettes | Senators press FDA to pull most e-cigarettes immediately | House panel tees up e-cig hearing for next week Reed thanks well wishers, will return to work Monday after collapse GOP Rep. Tom Reed collapses just before television appearance MORE (R-N.Y.), a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, which advanced many of the health-care bills last week. “And second, politically to do nothing is not a [good idea].”


The bills slated for votes in the House next week include measures expanding health savings accounts, a tax-free way for people to save for health-care costs. Sources say other measures include a repeal of ObamaCare’s medical device tax and a delay of the health insurance tax, which some members of both parties have criticized for driving up premiums.

Democrats say passing these bills doesn’t come anywhere close to repairing the damage Republicans have done, namely repealing ObamaCare’s individual mandate for coverage, a move that the Congressional Budget Office says will raise premiums by 10 percent on average next year.

“Seniors and families across America are suffering from higher health costs because of Republicans’ blatant health care sabotage, and House Republicans have absolutely no intention to make it right,” said Henry Connelly, a spokesman for House Democratic Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiBiden blasts Trump, demands he release transcript of call with foreign leader Pelosi wants to change law to allow a sitting president to be indicted Overnight Health Care — Presented by Partnership for America's Health Care Future — Walmart to stop selling e-cigarettes | Senators press FDA to pull most e-cigarettes immediately | House panel tees up e-cig hearing for next week MORE (Calif.). “Nothing Republicans have planned can fix that.”

Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist, said “it’s clear that the Democrats see an advantage here over voter anxiety over rising health-care costs.”

He advised Republicans to focus instead on criticizing Democratic calls for single-payer health care.

Polling this year shows Democrats have the edge on health care. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that 61 percent of respondents thinks Republicans are responsible for problems with the Affordable Care Act going forward, while 27 percent said the blame will lie with Democrats.

In addition, a Pew Research Center poll in June found that 48 percent of respondents thinks Democrats do a better job dealing with health care, while 32 percent said Republicans do.

In another sign of the danger Republicans see from rising premiums, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradyLobbying groups ask Congress for help on Trump tariffs Republicans pour cold water on Trump's term limit idea Republicans' rendezvous with reality — their plan is to cut Social Security MORE (R-Texas) said this week that GOP lawmakers are exploring ways to restart key ObamaCare payments that the Trump administration abruptly suspended earlier this month. The suspension of the payments, known as risk adjustments, prompted insurers to warn that premiums would rise even more without those funds.

“The administration wants to restore those payments, so we’re looking at ways that we can help them do that,” Brady said, leaving open the possibility of a legislative fix.

The bills on the House floor next week could give victories to the bill sponsors who are also vulnerable in November. Rep. Peter Roskam Peter James RoskamEx-GOP Rep. Roskam joins lobbying firm Blue states angry over SALT cap should give fiscal sobriety a try Illinois Dems offer bill to raise SALT deduction cap MORE (R-Ill.), a subcommittee chairman on Ways and Means who is facing a tough reelection race in his suburban Chicago district, is sponsoring several of the bills on expanding health savings accounts.

Rep. Erik PaulsenErik Philip PaulsenHopes dim for passage of Trump trade deal Fight over Trump's new NAFTA hits key stretch Blue states angry over SALT cap should give fiscal sobriety a try MORE (R-Minn.), who also faces a tough race, in suburban Minneapolis, could get a boost from passage of a bill he has championed repealing the medical device tax.

But overall, the measures slated for consideration are minor and won’t make a major dent in premiums, according to Joe Antos, a health-care expert at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute.

“They’re all little adjustments; there’s really not much to them,” Antos said, while noting that the bills could prove valuable politically by generating good headlines.

After last year’s repeal failure, Antos said, “this characterizes what Republicans will even be able to consider in health policy for the rest of the year.”

Reed, the New York congressman, acknowledged he would also like to do more by taking steps such as funding ObamaCare payments known as cost-sharing reductions that President TrumpDonald John TrumpJulián Castro: It's time for House Democrats to 'do something' about Trump Warren: Congress is 'complicit' with Trump 'by failing to act' Sanders to join teachers, auto workers striking in Midwest MORE canceled last year.

Still, he said the upcoming bills are “a legitimate effort to try to offer some relief, recognizing the situation we see with premiums going up.”

But the effort, he added, is “obviously not the cure-all for all the health-care woes.”