Health Care

Dems want to hold officials’ feet to the fire on ObamaCare

Greg Nash

Democrats say they will grill top Trump administration officials over what they say has been its efforts to “sabotage” ObamaCare, if they take back the House majority this fall and win committee chairmanships with subpoena power.

While Democrats are unlikely to see significant health-care legislation enacted while President Trump is in the White House, they say they’ll work to advance several bills designed to “undo” the damage caused by the administration and build up the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

{mosads}The measures and the tough hearings could help set the stage for the 2020 presidential race, when Democrats hope to unseat Trump.

A blue wave in November would give House Democrats the power to conduct investigations, issue subpoenas and drag administrative officials before Congress to ask tough questions about their handling of the 2010 health-care law that Republicans have attempted to repeal.

“We have to. Part of constituting the majority would be more oversight on the executive branch,” said Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), who is poised to take the gavel on the Ways and Means Committee if Democrats win back the House.

“What they’ve done is try to dismantle [the ACA] through the regulatory process,” Neal added. “I think if we were so lucky as to be the majority, I think we would certainly be in the position to stop that.”

If Democrats win back the House — FiveThirtyEight puts those odds at 79.5 percent — they would have the power to protect aspects of former President Obama’s signature legislative achievement, which many of them helped write and pass eight years ago.

The strategy could include investigations into the administration cutting funds for consumer enrollment assistance, expanding access to non-ObamaCare plans, canceling key insurer subsidies and declining to defend ObamaCare in court.

House Democrats were virtually powerless as Republicans attempted to repeal ObamaCare over the past 1 1/2 years of Trump’s presidency.

After Republicans failed in their repeal efforts, the administration began making regulatory changes that, Democrats argue, are aimed at weakening the law and depressing enrollment in ObamaCare.

“It will be a refreshing change to be able to have hearings on all these — this whole array of issues we haven’t really had in-depth hearings about,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (Ill.), a senior Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

“I think health care will be one of the very first things that we address,” she added. “There’s a lot of fear out there, and we need to calm people who are so afraid they’re going to lose their health care or not be able to afford their health care. I think that will be a big agenda item.”

House Democrats have already demanded answers from the administration regarding legal and regulatory efforts to weaken ObamaCare, but as the minority party they’ve received inadequate replies.

The threat of subpoenas, however, could make the administration more willing to provide those answers by providing testimony from officials at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

“Even before you see meaningful legislation, you’re going to start seeing hearings, subpoenas, [Government Accountability Office] reports — you name it — looking into the Trump administration and the way it has managed Medicare, Medicaid and particularly the Affordable Care Act marketplaces,” said Shawn Gremminger, a lobbyist for Families USA, a left-leaning health-care advocacy organization.

“I think you’re going to see a lot of witnesses from CMS and HHS having to spend a lot of time in front of committees,” he added. “Republicans did that when in charge of the Hill and Obama was in the White House.”

Democrats also have an interest in “undoing” the damage they say Republicans and the Trump administration have inflicted on the health-care law.

“The most important thing is stabilizing the Affordable Care Act,” said Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), who will become chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee if Democrats are in the majority. “Obviously, the president is constantly trying to sabotage anything and everything, from preexisting conditions to essential health benefits.”

A bill sponsored by Pallone, Neal, and House Education and the Workforce Committee ranking member Bobby Scott (D-Va.) would expand access to ObamaCare subsidies, reinstate insurer payments cut off last year by the Trump administration, block the expansion of non-ObamaCare plans called association health plans and restore marketing and outreach funds for the health-care law.

But if Republicans maintain control of the Senate, and with Trump at the helm of the executive branch, passing substantive Democratic-backed legislation could be difficult these next two years.

Still, Congress came close to passing legislation to shore up the ObamaCare markets last year, until it was derailed by House Republicans.

Democratic lawmakers say there may be room for compromise with their GOP counterparts, especially if ObamaCare premiums continue to rise ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

“Hopefully we’ll be able to get some of the Republicans to join us,” Schakowsky said. “I was here during the whole Bush administration, and even though we fought like cats and dogs, at the end of the day, we would come up with compromises.”

Tags Bobby Scott Donald Trump Frank Pallone Jr. Jan Schakowsky Richard Neal

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