House pan­els pre­pare health care law re­peal

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Mike De­bo­nis

WASH­ING­TON — Key House com­mit­tees are set to take up leg­is­la­tion to re­peal and be­gin re­plac­ing the Af­ford­able Care Act next week, with Repub­li­can lead­ers in­tent on over­com­ing in­ter­nal GOP de­bates to quickly de­liver on a cen­tral cam­paign prom­ise.

Those in­tra­party strug­gles were high­lighted Thurs­day when a Repub­li­can se­na­tor joined Democrats in call­ing for more trans­parency in the leg­is­la­tion’s draft­ing and sug­gested that House lead­ers were keep­ing de­tails un­der wraps to side­line con­ser­va­tives.

“This is be­ing pre­sented as if it were a na­tional se­cret, as if this were a plot to in­vade an­other coun­try,” said Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., as he stood out­side a Capi­tol con­fer­ence room where mem­bers of the House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee met.

But else­where Thurs­day, GOP lead­ers ex­pressed con­fi­dence that they were about to make good on a seven-yearold pledge to undo the ACA.

House Speaker Paul Ryan laid out a three-week time­line for the pas­sage of health care leg­is­la­tion in a closed­door morn­ing meet­ing with fel­low Repub­li­cans, ac­cord­ing to nu­mer­ous at­ten­dees.

The first steps in­volve par­al­lel ac­tion next week by the House Ways and Means Com­mit­tee and the En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee, which are han­dling sep­a­rate parts of the ACA over­haul. The fol­low­ing week, the House Bud­get Com­mit­tee would move to com­bine the bills into a “rec­on­cil­i­a­tion” pack­age el­i­gi­ble for ex­pe­dited Se­nate de­bate, with votes on the House floor ex­pected the week af­ter that.

“We are united, and we are de­ter­mined to res­cue peo­ple from this col­laps­ing health care law and to keep our prom­ise to the Amer­i­can peo­ple,” Ryan told re­porters.

Although there is con­sen­sus on many el­e­ments of the health care leg­is­la­tion — ex­pand­ing health sav­ings ac­counts, giv­ing states more flex­i­bil­ity to spend Med­i­caid funds and al­low­ing in­sur­ance plans to be sold across state lines — ma­jor ques­tions re­main that have di­vided Repub­li­cans.

The most important in­volve how to han­dle the mil­lions of Amer­i­cans who were added to the Med­i­caid rolls as part of the ACA, and how to help mil­lions more who are not cov­ered through their em­ploy­ers pur­chase af­ford­able in­sur­ance.

No leg­isla­tive text has been re­leased by Ryan’s of­fice or the rel­e­vant com­mit­tees. One part of the leg­is­la­tion, han­dled by the En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee, was made avail­able to Repub­li­can mem­bers of that panel — but only to be in­spected be­hind closed doors.

Although mem­bers and aides called that stan­dard op­er­at­ing prac­tice for a com­plex and sen­si­tive bill, sev­eral con­ser­va­tives balked at the se­crecy.

“We’ve been told, ‘It’s take it or leave it. This is what you get,’” Paul said.

A core group of con­ser­va­tive law­mak­ers re­mains in fa­vor of sim­ply re-pass­ing a 2015 ACA re­peal bill that would roll back the Obama law’s key pro­vi­sions over a two-year time frame and do lit­tle to re­place them. Ryan moved to squelch that ef­fort Thurs­day: Ac­cord­ing to two peo­ple in the room, he told law­mak­ers that Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump does not sup­port pass­ing an ACA re­peal bill with­out ac­com­pa­ny­ing re­place­ment el­e­ments.

J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE / AP

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., crit­i­cized House Repub­li­cans on Thurs­day for keep­ing se­cret their plans to re­peal and re­place the Af­ford­able Care Act. He speaks out­side a Capi­tol Hill con­fer­ence room.

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