Health Care

ObamaCare repeal off the table for now after Dems take House

A new Democratic House majority will shield ObamaCare from congressional Republicans who have been trying to eradicate former President Obama’s signature law since 2010.

Tuesday’s election results are good news for supporters of the resilient law — at least for the next couple of years.

{mosads}“I think it’s pretty obvious that a Democratic House is not going to be interested in that,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters Wednesday when asked about taking another run at repealing the law.

Democrats ran on enthusiasm for health care and ObamaCare to gain control of the House, eight years after they lost control of the lower chamber largely because the law was unpopular at that time.

Republicans failed on multiple occasions to repeal the Affordable Care Act in the courts and in Congress during the last six years of the Obama administration and President Trump’s first two years in office. After the 2016 elections, the GOP zeroed in on ObamaCare, but their efforts fell short despite having Republican majorities in both chambers. The GOP-led Congress did eliminate the ObamaCare individual mandate when it passed its tax-cut bill in December.

The recent attacks on ObamaCare, Democrats say, pushed the law to record levels of popularity and cost Republicans the House Tuesday.

“Health care was on the ballot, and health care won,” House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) told reporters Wednesday.

With Democrats retaking the House in January, any further attempts to repeal the law appear to be impossible — at least in the next Congress.

“I think the biggest implication of the election for the Affordable Care Act is that repeal is dead for now,” said Larry Levitt, senior vice president for health reform at the Kaiser Family Foundation and a former adviser on health care to the Clinton administration.

Democrats are likely to try passing legislation aimed at shoring up ObamaCare’s insurance markets after bipartisan legislation was stymied in the Senate last year.

“Voters cared a lot about health care and the message was received loud and clear,” said Sabrina Corlette, a research professor at Georgetown University Health Policy Institute.

“I would expect to see a lot of interest in doing things to improve affordability of coverage and actions to protect people with pre-existing conditions from potential Affordable Care Act rollbacks,” Corlette said.

The biggest threat to the law is now a pending lawsuit filed by 20 Republican attorneys general, and backed by the Trump administration, that seeks to overturn the law’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

A federal judge in Texas could rule any day on the case, and while even strident ObamaCare critics say the arguments are weak, supporters don’t know what to expect. Yet a ruling against the law’s pre-existing condition protections may be what’s needed to push the two parties together.

“You can see a case like that lead to a bipartisan push to maintain pre-existing condition protections,” said Chris Sloan, a director at the consulting firm Avalere.

Sloan noted that incoming Republican senators have been vocal about protecting pre-existing conditions, so they might be more willing to adopt stricter protections if presented with a Democratic bill.

“From a political environment, this is the time it would get there. There’s a better chance now than there would have been prior to this election,” Sloan said.

If the court invalidates the entire health law, that makes things more complicated, as Republicans would have to decide just how much more of the law they are willing to protect.

Yet Congress is sharply divided, with Senate Republicans gaining a larger majority Tuesday night. Lawmakers will face two years of legislative gridlock and status quo on ObamaCare unless the two parties can find common ground.

“There are serious problems with ObamaCare, and I think we’re going to have to obviously try to address that on a bipartisan basis,” McConnell said Wednesday.

Still, experts aren’t optimistic, given the high stakes for the presidential election in 2020. Twenty-two Senate Republicans will also have to defend their seats that year.

“I would expect Democrats in the House to put forward bills to strengthen the ACA, but I also expect those bills to go absolutely nowhere,” Levitt said.

“Both Democrats and Republicans are going to be positioning themselves for 2020. It’s hard to see how bipartisanship fits into that,” he added.

Democratic leaders are likely already planning to investigate efforts by the Trump administration to undermine and dismantle parts of the law.

Since Trump took office, the Department of Health and Human Services has cut funding for outreach and advertising, expanded plans that don’t comply with ObamaCare’s coverage requirements and ended key insurer payments, among other things.

House Democrats have indicated they would be willing to subpoena administration officials to demand answers, but Senate Republicans will still be a backstop against any meaningful action.

“I want to probe senior administration officials across the government who have abused their positions of power and wasted taxpayer money, as well as President Trump’s decisions to act in his own financial self-interest rather than the best interests of the American people,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), who’s in line to become chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Tags Donald Trump Elijah Cummings Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi

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