The American Health Care Act is in the hands of the Senate, where Republican lawmakers sound positive about the task of drafting their version of the Obamacare repeal legislation.
“We’re continuing to work on policy outcomes to bring the conference together, and most critically to lower health insurance premiums so that health care is more accessible,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said Thursday.
House Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters Thursday that it’s more urgent than ever for Congress to repeal Obamacare, after a new government report showed a doubling in the cost of individual health insurance plans since 2013.
“This law is in the middle of a collapse,” Ryan said. “We need to bring down the cost of coverage. And we need to revitalize the market so that people have real choices and real access to affordable health care. That’s what our plan will do.”
The House of Representatives voted by a razor-thin 217-213 May 4 to pass Republicans’ revised Obamacare replacement bill after President Donald Trump worked with Ryan to bring together House conservatives and centrists on the amended version.
Cruz’s remarks Thursday came after a meeting of the Senate’s health care working group, which officially includes him and 12 other GOP members.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, however, has said the working group is open to anyone in the Republican conference.
“The working group that counts is all 52 of us,” McConnell, R-Ky., said in early May, referring to Republicans.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, also part of the working group, said the need to repeal Obamacare is urgent in his state.
“Every time I travel back to Utah I hear from constituents whose health insurance premiums are now higher than their mortgages,” Lee said in a statement provided to The Daily Signal. “This has to stop.”
For his part, Cruz said flexibility is the operative word:
The way the working group has proceeded, this has been for a couple months now, is starting on areas of common ground and … one of the most important is the need for more flexibility. More flexibility for states. More flexibility for consumers. And flexibility is a principle that can help produce consensus because flexibility is something that conservatives support and moderates support.
Senate Budget Chairman Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., is also part of the working group shaping the upper chamber’s version of the American Health Care Act.
Committee staff told The Daily Signal that Enzi is focused on making sure the legislation meets requirements of the budget procedure known as reconciliation. These include that the results must save taxpayers at least $2 billion over 10 years.
Because of Democrats’ opposition to repealing Obamacare, formally known as the Affordable Care Act, Republicans are using the reconciliation process because it requires 51 rather than 60 votes in the 100-member Senate to advance legislation.
Dan Holler, spokesman for Heritage Action for America, the lobbying affiliate of The Heritage Foundation, told The Daily Signal in an email that the Senate is making good progress.
“While the entire process is taking significantly longer than many expected, the Senate is on track to pass their version this summer,” Holler said. “Doing so would not only deliver on a key campaign promise seven years in the making, but provide a much-needed legislative achievement for President Trump.”
President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law on March 23, 2010. Ryan said the Obamacare numbers contained in the government report released Tuesday speak for themselves.
“Since Obamacare went into effect, average health care premiums have doubled nationwide,” the House speaker told reporters. adding:
Remember—remember when President Obama promised that his health care plan would lower a typical family’s premiums by up to $2,500? Under Obamacare, average premiums have gone up by nearly $3,000.
The report by the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees Obamacare, found that the average annual cost paid by a consumer for an individual health care plan in 2013 was $2,784.
By 2017, the average annual cost for an individual plan purchased on HealthCare.gov, the Obamacare website, was $5,712. Consumers in 39 states use HealthCare.gov rather than a state-run Obamacare insurance exchange.
In a report released Wednesday, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the Obamacare replacement bill passed by House Republicans would reduce budget deficits by $119 billion from 2017 to 2026.
Under Obamacare, which mandates that Americans buy health insurance, the number of those without insurance is estimated to be 28 million in 2026, according to the CBO report. The number of those without insurance would rise to 51 million under age 65 that same year if the American Health Care Act as passed by the House became law, the report says.
McConnell tweeted Thursday that Senate Republicans are busy.
— Leader McConnell (@SenateMajLdr) May 25, 2017
The Senate majority leader urged Democrats to join in the process:
— Leader McConnell (@SenateMajLdr) May 25, 2017
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who presided over Democrats’ passage of Obamacare when she was House speaker, was less positive about Republicans’ efforts to repeal and replace the health care law.
— Nancy Pelosi (@NancyPelosi) May 24, 2017
Democrats generally have urged that Congress can “fix” Obamacare’s problems. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., urged Republicans to abandon the American Health Care Act as passed by the House:
For the good of the country, GOP should reject this path & work w/ Dems to fix our health care system, instead of pulling the plug on it. pic.twitter.com/6g8LEHZKXl
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) May 24, 2017
Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va., told The Daily Signal in an interview Thursday that in the end the American Health Care Act will be a success.
“The hurdle that we have to surpass is total failure,” Brat said, referring to Obamacare. “So it’s easy to have a successful product measured against that benchmark … you can’t do any worse than total failure.”