For House Republicans, Finding Obamacare Replacement Is No Easy Task

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“While both parties agree that we must make healthcare more accessible, we in the majority fundamentally disagree that more government is the answer,” stated House of Representatives Majority Leader Eric Cantor in May of last year, as the Republican party pushed to repeal the Affordable Care Act before the implementation of its cornerstone provision — the individual insurance exchanges. His comments are noteworthy for the fact that he acknowledged the American healthcare system not only needed a fix, but needed to be made more accessible.

In the months since that statement was made on the floor of the House of Representatives, the insurance marketplaces have launched, criticism has been dumped on the Obama administration for the initially poor performance of the healthcare websites and for the cancellation of millions of so-called non-compliant insurance policies, and, with just five weeks remaining until the end of the enrollment period, 4 million people have signed up for coverage. But the Republican party has yet to find any alternatives to the healthcare reform, and 2014 is a congressional election year.

The Affordable Care Act — known colloquially as Obamacare — has dominated the Republican Party’s rhetoric for years. GOP lawmakers have come to terms that they must propose some piece of legislation to amend the Affordable Care Act, or replace it, if they are to appeal to a broader base of voters. The politics of Obamacare are changing, and the Republican party is well-aware of that reality. “It’s no longer just a piece of paper that you can repeal and it goes away,” Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson, a tea party Republican, told the New York Times earlier this year. “There’s something there. We have to recognize that reality. We have to deal with the people that are currently covered under Obamacare.”

But among House Republicans, there is little unity on a strategy, even though just a month ago lawmakers had rallied around a proposal made by Republican Senators Richard Burr of North Carolina, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, and Orrin Hatch of Utah. The Patient Choice, Affordability, Responsibility, and Empowerment Act is strongly reliant on market competition, with notable differences from Obamacare; it would likely cover fewer uninsured Americans, increase premiums for many older adults, shrink Medicaid, decrease subsidies for middle class Americans, scale back protections for people with preexisting conditions, and allow private insurers to escape many of the consumer-friendly requirements imposed on them by Obamacare. In addition, it would not maintain Obamacare’s individual mandate. The bill’s authors noted that believe our proposal is roughly budget neutral over a decade,” meaning it does not substantially reduce the deficit. Rather, it seeks to modestly reduce the amount of federal spending and taxation.

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