GOP taps gov­er­nors in bid to ax Oba­macare

So­licit sug­ges­tions for bet­ter ex­e­cu­tion

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY TOM HOW­ELL JR.

Repub­li­cans are try­ing to rope the coun­try’s gov­er­nors into their Oba­macare re­peal ef­fort, so­lic­it­ing feed­back from the state ex­ec­u­tives Mon­day as they plot their strat­egy for early next year.

While they’ve said dis­man­tling the Af­ford­able Care Act is their top pri­or­ity in the new year, con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans are still sketch­ing out what comes next, and the gov­er­nors, who have grap­pled with the ef­fects of Oba­macare and the unin­sured up close, could pro­vide a life­line for the GOP.

House Ma­jor­ity Leader Kevin McCarthy, chair­man of two key com­mit­tees, asked the gov­er­nors to sug­gest ways to lower costs and ex­pand choices for con­sumers with­out re­sort­ing to the heavy­handed man­dates Pres­i­dent Obama used.

“Work­ing as a team, with your help and cre­ative ideas, we can achieve our mu­tual goal of putting pa­tients first,” they wrote in a let­ter ask­ing state of­fi­cials to weigh in by Jan. 6.

With health care loom­ing next year, Repub­li­cans are try­ing to clear the decks on Capi­tol Hill this week.

That means pass­ing a stop­gap spend­ing bill to keep the gov­ern­ment funded into the new year, giv­ing Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump a say in those de­ci­sions. Con­gres­sional lead­ers were de­bat­ing whether the “con­tin­u­ing res­o­lu­tion” on gov­ern­ment fund­ing will last through March, as ini­tially planned, or ex­tend deeper into the spring to give GOP lead­ers more breath­ing room.

Mr. McCarthy said they hope to un­veil the bill Tues­day.

House and Se­nate ne­go­tia­tors also

fi­nal­ized a wa­ter re­sources bill Mon­day that in­cludes $170 mil­lion for Flint, Michi­gan, and other com­mu­ni­ties reel­ing from lead­tainted wa­ter — a top pri­or­ity for Democrats.

A mas­sive med­i­cal-in­no­va­tion bill cleared a ma­jor test vote in the Se­nate on Mon­day, 85-13, de­spite vo­cal op­po­si­tion from pro­gres­sives such as Sen. El­iz­a­beth War­ren, Mas­sachusetts Demo­crat, and Sen. Bernard San­ders, Ver­mont in­de­pen­dent.

The $6.3 bil­lion bill dubbed “21st Cen­tury Cures” fast-tracks reg­u­la­tory ap­proval of ground­break­ing drugs, ush­ers in bi­par­ti­san men­tal health re­forms and pro­vides $1 bil­lion to tackle Amer­ica’s pre­scrip­tion painkiller and heroin epi­demic. It in­jects nearly $5 bil­lion into the Na­tional In­sti­tutes of Health, in­clud­ing $1.8 bil­lion for the cancer “moon­shot” project led by Vice Pres­i­dent Joseph R. Bi­den, who presided over Mon­day’s vote.

Op­po­nents say the bill fast­tracks drug com­pa­nies’ prod­ucts while do­ing noth­ing for Amer­i­cans strug­gling with high pre­scrip­tion costs.

But the White House sup­ports the leg­is­la­tion, which passed the House 392-26 last week, and it is poised for fi­nal ap­proval in the Se­nate later this week.

Be­yond the hol­i­days, GOP lead­ers say they will kick off the new Congress in Jan­uary by writ­ing a bud­get that sets in mo­tion fast-track rules that al­low Repub­li­cans to gut Oba­macare on a ma­jor­ity-line vote in the Se­nate, avoid­ing a Demo­cratic fil­i­buster and clear­ing the way for Mr. Trump’s sig­na­ture at the White House.

Set­tling on a re­place­ment, how­ever, will be much harder. It will take 60 votes in the Se­nate, and the GOP can only count on, at most, its own 52 mem­bers.

Repub­li­cans say they’re cast­ing a wide net to build con­sen­sus and avoid a re­peat of 2010, when Mr. Obama re­lied on Demo­cratic ma­jori­ties to mus­cle his health re­forms through Congress with­out a sin­gle GOP vote.

Democrats said the GOP was sim­ply reach­ing for a life­line that prob­a­bly won’t come af­ter Oba­macare ex­tended fed­eral as­sis­tance to low- and mod­er­ate-in­come res­i­dents seek­ing pri­vate in­sur­ance and helped 31 states ex­pand their Med­i­caid pro­grams for the poor.

“Given that re­peal­ing the ACA will blow a mas­sive hole in state bud­gets across the coun­try and is the ex­act op­po­site of fis­cal con­ser­vatism, it’s no sur­prise that Repub­li­cans have no idea how to han­dle this is­sue and are look­ing ev­ery­where they can for help,” said Matt House, spokesman for in­com­ing Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Demo­crat.

Mr. McCarthy and the House chair­men, in their let­ter to gov­er­nors, asked if they’d be in­ter­ested in set­ting up high-risk pools to cover sicker cus­tomers priced out of the mar­ket.

And it hints at ex­pe­dited ap­proval of GOP-pre­ferred changes to Med­i­caid and sep­a­rate waivers that al­low states, start­ing in 2017, to sup­plant Oba­macare with their own re­forms, so long as they match or out­per­form Mr. Obama’s de­sign.

“I think it’s just an at­tempt to lobby the states, say­ing, ‘We’re go­ing to give you a lot more flex­i­bil­ity and con­trol than the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion did — to show you how sin­cere and ea­ger we are to do that. We’re go­ing to send you a lot of ques­tions and ask you for your thoughts,’” said Ti­mothy Jost, a law pro­fes­sor at Wash­ing­ton and Lee Univer­sity in Vir­ginia who closely tracks the de­bate.

Mis­sis­sippi In­sur­ance Com­mis­sioner Mike Chaney said the new Congress and ad­min­is­tra­tion should start by ex­tend­ing “tran­si­tional” plans that do not com­ply with Oba­macare and can­not be re­newed past the end of 2017.

Un­der po­lit­i­cal pres­sure, Mr. Obama in late 2013 told states they could al­low con­sumers to keep plans that don’t com­ply with his cov­er­age re­quire­ments for a few more years, af­ter he had promised Amer­i­cans they could keep cov­er­age they liked un­der his law.

Mr. Chaney said roughly 250,000 peo­ple in his state rely on the tran­si­tional plans, which tend to be cheaper than Oba­macare-com­pli­ant plans and their as­so­ci­ated doc­tor net­works.

“It af­fects a lot of peo­ple here,” Mr. Chaney said.

Mr. Chaney, a Repub­li­can, ap­peared to agree with many of the House GOP’s aims — al­low­ing sick cus­tomers to still get cov­ered, while us­ing mar­ket forces to en­tice peo­ple into plans — but said they should tread cau­tiously with the 20 mil­lion-plus who rely on the cur­rent pro­gram.

“[If] you’re not care­ful, you’re go­ing to have a prob­lem,” he said.

Repub­li­cans in­sist they will not pull the rug out from Amer­i­cans who hold Oba­macare cov­er­age and would be af­fected by re­peal, though they haven’t said how their bridge to a new sys­tem will work.

“Those are all chal­lenges that we’re work­ing through right now. … Noth­ing to re­port yet,” Mr. McCarthy said.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

House Ma­jor­ity Leader Kevin McCarthy asked GOP gov­er­nors to sug­gest ways to fix health care.

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