GOP’s repeal-only bid falters
State’s two senators say repeal now, replace later
WASHINGTON — Congress should repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act now and come up with a replacement later, Arkansas’ two U.S. senators said Tuesday.
In interviews, U.S. Sens. John Boozman and Tom Cotton said they are ready to vote for legislation that would phase out the Affordable Care Act over a two-year period.
But a fellow Republican, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, said Congress shouldn’t vote to eliminate the program until an alternative is ready.
“It is important to know where we are going with a replacement bill at the same time we repeal,” he said in a written statement Tuesday afternoon.
Speaking with reporters earlier Tuesday, Hutchinson said it’s risky to end the Affordable Care Act if there’s still no agreement on what to replace it with.
“A repeal without a [ replacement] would be providing instability in our health care system, and not give confidence, and it would
create worry and anxiety among people in Arkansas that are reliant upon some assurance we’re going to have affordable health care,” Hutchinson said.
Unless 48 of Boozman’s and Cotton’s colleagues agree with them, the legislation won’t advance. News reports this week said there had been enough Republican defections to block it.
“I don’t know if it will pass,” Cotton said. “I do think that the repeal now and replace later option is probably the best practical option we have today.”
Senate Republicans passed similar legislation when Barack Obama was president, the lawmaker from Dardanelle noted.
“I can’t imagine why a Republican senator who voted for that bill 18 months ago would flip-flop with the bill introduced now. You’d certainly have some explaining to do to your voters at home on such a blatant flip-flop,” he said.
Boozman expressed confidence that the two-year delay would allow for a smooth transition.
“It would give us time to put it in the appropriate committees and start holding hearings and see if we can come to an agreement,” the lawmaker from Rogers said.
“We can go forward with things that are important,
such as making sure that we don’t lose [coverage for] pre-existing conditions,” he said.
Republicans say the Affordable Care Act has led to higher premiums, co- pays and deductibles, making health care unaffordable for millions of Americans. Democrats say proposed Republican changes would result in millions more Americans being uninsured.
With the outcome of repeal and replace in doubt, President Donald Trump said Republicans may allow the existing system to fester.
“I can tell you the Republicans are not going to own it. We’ll let Obamacare fail, and then the Democrats are going to come to us,” he told reporters on Tuesday.
Boozman said that’s not a strategy he embraces.
“Lots of people are dependent on their insurance for this. In fact, I’m one of them,” he said. “I wouldn’t do anything that would intentionally make the system worse as we go forward.
“I think the president is speaking out of frustration. I think that he will embrace the plan that we’re coming up with and we’ll go forward and get this solved.”
Cotton said doing nothing is not an option.
“Obamacare is failing, and if Congress takes no action, it’s going to continue to fail because it’s fundamentally flawed in its design,” he said.
In his written statement, Hutchinson called for a bipartisan
effort to fix the system.
“Leaders from all parties agree that our nation’s current health- care system is clearly not working, and it is incumbent on us, as leaders, to find solutions to improve it. Democrats must join Republicans at the table and work to accomplish a solution to support sustainable health care in our nation. Governors, including myself, stand ready to partner with our colleagues in Congress in this effort.”
While elected officials grappled with the issue, insurers were carefully monitoring the developments.
Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield, the state’s largest health insurance company, has been focused on providing information to Arkansas’ congressional delegation and state officials on how various proposals under discussion would affect the state, company spokesman Max Greenwood said.
One concern, she said, is ensuring that the federal government provides funding for the so-called cost sharing reduction subsidies, which reimburse insurers for reducing the out-of-pocket costs for low-income consumers.
The loss of those subsidies “would impact the affordability of products, and it would impact the ability of people to receive care,” Greenwood said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (center) said Tuesday that while he regrets not being able to pass the Senate health care bill, “that doesn’t mean we should give up.”