WASHINGTON (AP) — Congressional Republicans will move to temporarily continue health care subsidies for millions of people if the Supreme Court overturns the aid, according to plans discussed in the House and Senate Wednesday.
Republicans on both sides of the Capitol met privately to discuss how to respond to the politically explosive ruling that’s expected in the next two weeks and could result in some 7 million people losing subsidies to buy coverage under President Barack Obama’s contested health care law.
Under the plan presented by a quartet of committee chairman to House Republicans and described by several lawmakers, subsidies would continue for the remainder of this calendar year. After that, states could obtain block grants to continue the aid; if a state turns down the block grant, individuals could receive tax subsidies directly as they do now.
The money would be used to shop for health insurance in a reordered marketplace without requirements for most people to carry insurance and most employers to offer it. The plan would be temporarily, although how long exactly it would last was unclear; several lawmakers said it would be no more than two years.
After that, the law Republicans call “Obamacare” would be eliminated altogether and replaced with a new approach.
Senate Republicans are discussing a similar structure although fewer details were available.
Such an effort would be sure to encounter solid Democratic opposition and a veto from the president, who has championed the law’s extension of health coverage to millions.
And the approach carries political risks for the GOP. In the House, Republicans have voted more than 50 times to repeal all or portions of the health care law and could now be accused of moving to extend it leading into a presidential election year. A number of House conservatives have already expressed opposition to extending the law’s subsidies in any way, shape, or form. GOP leaders are hoping to use a court victory by conservatives challenging a key girder of Obama’s law to take the political offensive against the statute, and to avoid blame from voters should the subsidies be erased.
Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla., said House GOP leaders argued that the situation presents an opportunity for Republicans.
“This is transitioning out of Obamacare, not repealing it and not even affirming it. It’s transitioning,” Ross said. “I think at the end of the day when we realize that we have one opportunity to respond and that Congress will be the focus of that response, we have to be together and do that, I think that that may carry the day. It’s going to take a lot of coalescing.”
A leading author of the evolving Senate approach, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said it would help people now receiving subsidies through the 2016 elections, when the GOP hopes to capture the White House and keep congressional control.
“We need to fix health care in America, but Obamacare cannot be fixed,” Barrasso told reporters.
Some conservatives say the subsidies should be completely ended, not extended, and the entire law dismantled.
“I do not believe we should extend subsidies. I think the proper answer is to allow states to opt out” of the law’s requirements, said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, a candidate for his party’s presidential nomination.
The high court is expected to rule in the next two weeks on a lawsuit brought by conservatives and backed by the GOP. They say that under the law, the aid is limited to states operating their own insurance marketplaces, and is not allowed for the roughly three-dozen that use the federal HealthCare.gov website.
Democrats say the overall bill’s context makes clear that the subsidies were designed to go to residents of every state.
In the 34 states likeliest to be hit hardest – should the justices erase those subsidies – about 6.4 million people receive the aid, averaging $272 monthly, according to the Health and Human Services Department. Analysts have warned that most of those people would no longer be able to afford health coverage if the assistance was ended.
Many Republicans say since Obama would not let them kill his own law, a complete overhaul will have to await the 2016 elections, when the GOP hopes to capture the White House and retain congressional control.