Republicans make repealing Obamacare ‘first order of business’

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By Susan Cornwell and Richard Cowan | WASHINGTON

WASHINGTON President Barack Obama exhorted
fellow Democrats on Wednesday to preserve his legacy-defining
healthcare law as Republicans moved ahead with their
long-desired bid to scrap it in what Vice President-elect Mike
Pence called the “first order of business” of Donald Trump’s
administration.

The Republican-controlled U.S. Senate brushed aside unified
opposition by Democrats and voted to open debate on a resolution
setting in motion the Republican drive to repeal the 2010
Affordable Care Act, which has helped upwards of 20 million
previously uninsured Americans obtain medical insurance.

As early as 2018, the millions of people who gained
insurance under the law could see their coverage in jeopardy –
especially if Congress fails to find a replacement to the law
beforehand.

Obama, who hands over the presidency to Trump on Jan. 20,
made a rare trip to Capitol Hill to urge Democratic lawmakers to
protect the measure, which is known as Obamacare and is
considered his signature domestic policy accomplishment.

Republicans, who will control the White House as well as
both chambers of Congress when Trump takes office, stepped up
their rhetorical attack on the law, which they have labeled a
government overreach. Democrats in turn accused them of trying
to rip apart the nation’s healthcare system with no firm plan to
replace it.

“The Republican plan to cut healthcare wouldn’t ‘make
America great again,'” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer
told reporters, invoking Trump’s campaign slogan. “It would make
America sick again and lead to chaos instead of affordable
care.”

Since the law was enacted, Republicans in Congress have
voted more than 50 times to try to repeal all or part of it and
conservatives have filed suits to try to invalidate it.

Republicans, who have fought nearly all of Obama’s major
legislative initiatives during his eight years in office, have
said Obamacare has brought excessive government intrusion into
the healthcare market and contend it is harming job growth by
adding burdens on businesses.

REPUBLICANS “HAVE A PLAN”

Obama “encouraged us to fight,” Democratic Representative
Elijah Cummings told reporters after meeting with the president.
Obama told reporters his message was, “Look out for the American
people.”

Pence, the Indiana governor and a former member of the U.S.
House of Representatives, met Republican lawmakers to plot the
path forward on scuttling the law. Afterward, they stepped up
their rhetorical attack on Obamacare, with House Speaker Paul
Ryan saying the law ruined the American healthcare system.

“The first order of business is to keep our promise to
repeal Obamacare and replace it with the kind of healthcare
reform that will lower the cost of health insurance without
growing the size of government,” Pence said at a news
conference.

Pence said Trump will work in concert with congressional
leaders for a “smooth transition to a market-based healthcare
reform system” through legislative and executive action.

During two news conferences, Pence, Ryan and Senate Majority
Leader Mitch McConnell offered few details on what a
Republican-backed replacement for Obamacare would look like.
Ryan said lawmakers will take action that does not “pull the rug
out from anybody” and that Republicans “have a plan” and “plenty
of ideas.”

Democrats are trying to depict Republicans as risking
breaking the entire health care system – including for those who
currently get their insurance through an employer and not under
provisions created by the ACA.

Republicans are “pulling the string that’s going to unravel
the whole (healthcare) system,” Democratic Senator Debbie
Stabenow said.

Trump wrote earlier on Twitter that Republicans “must be
careful in that the Dems own the failed ObamaCare disaster, with
its poor coverage and massive premium increases.”

“Don’t let the Schumer clowns out of this web,” Trump added.

Schumer said Democrats would not take any blame: “They want
to repeal it and then try to hang it on us. Not going to happen.
It’s their responsibility, plain and simple.”

“SMOOTH TRANSITION”

The Republicans risk causing turmoil in the health insurance
market as well as potential political backlash if their policies
fail. Pence said repealing Obamacare must be done in a way that
does not inflict hardship on the economy or on Americans who
obtained insurance through the law.

“The architecture of the replacement of Obamacare will come
together, as it should, through the legislative process in the
weeks and months ahead,” Pence said.

House Republicans last year offered a proposal that would,
among other things, provide refundable tax credits to help
people afford their medical insurance premiums.

Obamacare helped people obtain insurance by increasing
funding to states to expand the Medicaid healthcare program for
the poor and providing government subsidies to help people
obtain coverage from private insurers through government-run
exchanges.

Republican Senator Rand Paul, who is a doctor, joined the
Democrats in voting against beginning consideration of the
Obamacare repeal resolution. While Paul said he supports
repealing the law, he said the current proposal would increase
the government debt by $9.7 trillion in the next 10 years.

“Is that really what the Republican Party represents?” Paul
said during Senate floor debate.

The United States has a more complicated healthcare system
than some other rich nations whose governments provide medical
coverage.

Many Americans get health insurance through their employers.
Others buy policies directly from private insurers or are
eligible for government-run programs for elderly and low-income
people. About 29 million had no medical insurance in 2015,
according to the most recent government statistics. The U.S.
population tops 320 million people.

Trump has vowed to protect some popular parts of Obamacare,
such as barring insurance companies from denying coverage to
people with pre-existing medical conditions. (Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu and Ayesha Rascoe)



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