Conservative warns McConnell to not give up on ObamaCare repeal
A leading House conservative is warning Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) he should not quit fighting to pass legislation to repeal and replace ObamaCare through the Senate.
Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, is not happy about talk that Senate Republicans might give up that effort and instead work with Democrats on legislation to shore up troubled insurance markets.
“If we’re waving the white flag on something that we’ve campaigned against for many years, it is not a good sign for what comes down the pipe. How many white flags will we raise just when the going gets rough?” Meadows told The Hill in an interview.
“It’s incumbent on us to work, to negotiate and find a happy medium that gets 51 votes in the Senate, 218 votes in the House and send it to the president,” he added.
Meadows is reacting in part to comments McConnell made Thursday that suggested he might be getting closer to throwing in the towel on the healthcare effort.
“If my side is unable to agree on an adequate replacement, then some kind of action with regard to private health insurance markets must occur,” McConnell said at a Rotary Club meeting in Kentucky.
McConnell’s statement is one of several recent signals that the Senate bill, the Better Care Reconciliation Act, is in trouble.
Conservatives and moderates have dug in their heels this week over a controversial proposal sponsored by Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) to allow insurance companies to sell health plans that don’t comply with federal requirements as long as they sell options that do qualify.
Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) told constituents in Kansas this week that he will insist on the bill maintaining the protections for people with pre-existing conditions.
Senate Democrats welcomed McConnell’s statement as a sign that the effort to repeal and replace ObamaCare is wobbling and that GOP leaders are getting closer to moving on to other issues.
“It’s encouraging that Sen. McConnell today acknowledged that the issues with the issues with the exchanges are fixable, and opened the door to bipartisan solutions to improve our healthcare system,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) said in a statement Thursday.
“Democrats are eager to work with Republicans to stabilize the markets and improve the law,” he added.
If legislation to repeal and replace ObamaCare fails, states will need billions of dollars over the next few years to keep insurance companies participating in unprofitable marketplaces.
But Meadows warned on Friday that any proposal to funnel taxpayer money to insurance companies to stabilize the market will fall flat with House Republicans.
“There is zero chance you would find enough Republican votes on the House side to do that,” he said.
Meadows said he was willing to look at federal payments to insurers to prevent a premium spike during a transition period, but only for a transition period.
The Obama and Trump administration have made cost-sharing reduction payments to reimburse insurance companies for providing coverage to sicker individuals because of federal mandates.
The Senate healthcare bill includes a $50 billion short-term market stabilization fund covering years 2018 through 2021 but that is only palatable to conservative lawmakers because it would provide a bridge to new marketplaces with less federal regulation.
Talk of spending billions of dollars on the insurance marketplaces to keep the broad structures of ObamaCare in place is a non-starter with Meadows and allied House Republicans.
“To suggest that we’re going to bail out insurance companies when we’re not repealing or replacing ObamaCare — that’s what it would be,” he said.
If the Senate healthcare bill grinds to a stalemate, Meadows said he and other House conservatives would be willing to consider market stabilization measures attached to legislation that replaces as much of ObamaCare as possible under Senate rules.
“If we only have a repeal without a replace can I see a market stabilization measure being put forward in the Senate and the House, yes,” he added.
But to stabilize markets to keep ObamaCare on the books is unacceptable to House conservatives, he explained.
Meadows said House conservatives could also be amenable to a straight ObamaCare repeal bill that has a longer transition of three years instead of the two-year implementation schedule in the 2015 repeal measure that the Senate and House passed but former President Barack Obama vetoed.
Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), a close ally of McConnell’s, and Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) have introduced legislation to “rescue” people in failing insurance markets if the GOP healthcare bill collapses.
Their proposal would allow people who receive subsidies under the current law to buy health insurance outside of ObamaCare’s exchanges as long as those plans are approved by states for sale in the individual markets.
Other Republicans have discussed passing legislation to formally authorize cost-sharing reduction payments, which the administration has now been making under executive authority.
The payments started under Obama and Republicans criticized them as unconstitutional.