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Obama, Pence Rally Lawmakers for Coming US Health Care Fight

  • Ken Bredemeier

President Barack Obama arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 4, 2017, to meet with members of Congress to discuss his signature healthcare law.

U.S. President Barack Obama, a Democrat, and Republican Vice President-elect Mike Pence rallied their political colleagues in Congress on Wednesday for the coming fight over Republican efforts to repeal and replace the national health care reforms that were Obama's signature domestic achievement.

Obama met with Democratic lawmakers, urging them to stand against attempts to undermine what Americans know as "Obamacare," which has added 20 million people to the health insurance rolls, but sometimes left them with costly premiums.

Meanwhile, Pence huddled with Republicans who have vowed to repeal the 2010 law that required Americans to buy health insurance or pay a fine if they did not, although they have yet to agree on a replacement plan.

"Don't rescue" Republican efforts to replace the law with something worse, Democratic lawmakers quoted Obama as saying. He leaves office in two weeks, but he has been trying to shore up support for his policies, many of which President-elect Donald Trump has vowed to overturn, including Obamacare.

Pence said he told Republican lawmakers to "be careful" as they move quickly to repeal the law that Democrats passed without a single Republican vote when they had majorities in both houses of Congress. Now that Republicans control Congress, and Trump and Pence take office January 20, repealing the law is their first legislative effort.

Vice President-elect Mike Pence, center, is joined by, from left, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, chair of the House Republican Conference, House Speaker Paul Ryan, and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, at a news conference after a closed-door meeting with the GOP caucus at the Capitol in Washington, Jan. 4, 2017.
Vice President-elect Mike Pence, center, is joined by, from left, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, chair of the House Republican Conference, House Speaker Paul Ryan, and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, at a news conference after a closed-door meeting with the GOP caucus at the Capitol in Washington, Jan. 4, 2017.



Replacement plan

Pence said Republican lawmakers must remember "we're talking about peoples' lives" and their health decisions and how to pay for medical care. He called for a replacement plan that "reflects the compassion of the president-elect." He said the replacement must "lower the cost of health insurance without growing the power of the government."

House Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi scoffed at Republican efforts to replace the law.

"They have no replacement plan," she said. "They don't really know what they're doing."

Some Republican have suggested they could repeal the law, but not agree on a replacement for up to three years.

Pelosi rejected that idea, saying, "Repeal and delay is an act of cowardice."

The big majority of Americans get their health insurance through plans offered by their employers, with the remainder buying individual policies, sometimes with the help of government aid.

Key provisions

All Americans are affected by some provisions of the law, however, such as the requirement that insurers cannot deny coverage because of a customer's pre-existing medical condition and that young people can stay on their parents' insurance plans until they turn 26.

Trump says he wants to keep the two provisions, but insurance companies could balk if the mandate to buy insurance is ended, as Republicans want.

The dueling Obama and Pence meetings highlight one of the major upcoming battles as the American government transitions from Obama to Trump.

"The first order of business is to repeal and replace Obamacare," Pence told reporters.

Trump has called Obamacare a "lousy" program that costs far too much, and while he has not laid out specifics of a plan to replace it, he has made it clear he wants to. He continued to criticize what he called the "failed Obamacare disaster" on Twitter Wednesday.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Tuesday that Obama would discuss with Democrats how to counter the Republican goal of repeal.

"The President has long been open to the idea that if there are Republicans who are genuinely interested in reforming the Affordable Care Act in a way that would strengthen the program, the president would be strongly supportive of that effort," Earnest said. "But that's not what Republicans have offered."

FILE - President Barack Obama pauses as he speaks during 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, July 27, 2016.
FILE - President Barack Obama pauses as he speaks during 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, July 27, 2016.

A focus on the contrasting policy positions of Obama and Trump will likely be on display next week when the president gives his farewell address, followed the next day by Trump's first major news conference since being elected in November.

Trump announced the January 11 "general news conference" in a Twitter post Tuesday evening.

Melania Trump, right, looks on as her husband President-elect Donald Trump talks to reporters during a New Year's Eve party at Mar-a-Lago, Dec. 31, 2016, in Palm Beach, Florida.
Melania Trump, right, looks on as her husband President-elect Donald Trump talks to reporters during a New Year's Eve party at Mar-a-Lago, Dec. 31, 2016, in Palm Beach, Florida.

He had planned to talk to reporters in December to detail how he would address potential conflicts of interest involving his business, but that meeting was postponed.

It is not clear how much he will speak about the issue, though that may depend on what questions he is asked. Trump has said he will leave the business in control of his adult sons and other executives.

VOA's Katherine Gypson contributed to this report from Capitol Hill

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