House Republicans unveil bill to replace Obamacare

Washington, March 8 (IANS) House Republicans on Monday released long-anticipated legislation to replace Obamacare, scrapping the mandate for most Americans to have health insurance in favour of a system for people to buy insurance in the open market.

The legislation aims to supplant the Affordable Care Act, former President Barack Obama’s signature health care plan, with a more conservative vision.

Under two bills drafted by separate House committees, the government would no longer penalise Americans for failing to have health insurance but would try to encourage people to maintain coverage by allowing insurers to impose a surcharge of 30 percent for those who have a gap between health plans, reports Washington Post.

The legislation would preserve two of the most popular features of the 2010 health-care law, letting young adults stay on their parents’ health plans until age 26 and forbidding insurers to deny coverage or charge more to people with pre-existing medical problems. It would also target Planned Parenthood, rendering the women’s health organisation ineligible for Medicaid reimbursements or federal family planning grants — a key priority for anti-abortion groups.

The House Republican bill would roll back the expansion of Medicaid that has provided coverage to more than 10 million people in 31 states, reducing federal payments for many new beneficiaries. It also would effectively scrap the unpopular requirement that people have insurance and eliminate tax penalties for those who go without. The requirement for larger employers to offer coverage to their full-time employees would also be eliminated, the New York Times writes.

People who let their insurance coverage lapse, however, would face a significant penalty. Insurers could increase their premiums by 30 percent, and in that sense, Republicans would replace a penalty for not having insurance with a new penalty for allowing insurance to lapse.

The White House and both chambers of Congress hope to repeal it and sign into law a Republican replacement by April 7, before lawmakers take off for a two-week Easter recess.

House Speaker Paul Ryan said Obamacare is “rapidly collapsing” and it is “time to turn the page”.

“The American Health Care Act is a plan to drive down costs, encourage competition, and give every American access to quality, affordable health insurance. It protects young adults, patients with pre-existing conditions, and provides a stable transition so that no one has the rug pulled out from under them,” Ryan said in a statement.

Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday dismissed Kentucky Senator Rand Paul’s criticism of the House’s Obamacare repeal-and-replace legislation.

In an interview Tuesday morning with Fox News, Paul blasted the House plan as “Obamacare lite” and warned that a provision to pay penalties to insurance companies rather than the government is likely “unconstitutional and could destroy the whole repeal plan.”

“This is Obamacare lite,” he said. “It will not pass. Conservatives are not going to take it.”

Democrats have given no indication that they intend to work with Republicans, and top party leaders decried the GOP plan Monday as a betrayal of everyday Americans. “Trumpcare doesn’t replace the Affordable Care Act, it forces millions of Americans to pay more for less care,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.).

The Republican plan would offer tax credits ranging from $2,000 per year for those under 30 to $4,000 per year for those over 60. The full credit would be available for individuals earning up to $75,000 a year and up to $150,000 for married couples filing jointly. The credits would phase out for individuals earning more — for each $1,000 in additional income, a person would be entitled to $100 less in credit, meaning a 61-year old could make up to $115,000 and still receive some credit, the Post reported.

The income-based phase-out of the credit allows the GOP plan to be funded without taxes on employer-provided insurance that had been considered earlier in the drafting process. In addition, the latest proposal would delay the ACA’s “Cadillac” tax, a levy on the most generous employer-provided health plans, until 2025. It also retains the tax exclusion for premiums paid for employer-provided health plans.

–IANS

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