CAPITOL HILL - Conservative lawmakers hoping to push the House of Representatives on a long-awaited vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act introduced their own plan Wednesday.
The bill would be a replacement for former President Barack Obama's controversial health care legislation. It was offered by members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus and mirrors a similar piece of legislation introduced in the Senate by Republican Rand Paul of Kentucky.
“The American people have had it,” Rep. Jim Jordan, a member of the caucus, said, describing the Affordable Care Act. “They are frustrated and they're frustrated because you've got to remember the framework they were told nine different lies when this thing passed.”
'Repeal and replace'
The caucus said its bill addresses some of the problems in the Affordable Care Act commonly known as “Obamacare” — by offering tax incentives for health savings accounts that would help patients pay for their health care expenses, allowing for the purchase of health insurance across state lines, and allowing individuals to deduct the cost of health insurance from their income taxes.
The rallying cry “repeal and replace” fueled the successful campaigns of many congressional Republicans during the 2016 election season.
But the planned strategy of repealing the old law and replacing it with improved legislation by mid-February never materialized even though House Speaker Paul Ryan continues to emphasize repeal and replace as one of the key items on Congress' agenda.
Added pressure on Republicans
The new proposal from the House Freedom Caucus will put pressure on Ryan and more mainstream Republicans to accelerate the timetable for accomplishing that campaign promise.
“We're very serious about pursuing this agenda in a timely fashion,” said Rep. Dave Brat, a Republican from Virginia. “So we put in place these measures in March in the first reconciliation, tax reform in the second reconciliation a few more months after that. By then the economy starts taking off and the American people will be happy again.”
House Freedom Caucus members believe that allowing the health care market to operate under free market principles will drive costs down for consumers and allow patients more control over their health care decisions. But the bill does not address a replacement for Medicaid expansion, and it takes a different approach to the difficult question of protections for pre-existing conditions.
“I think that's determined ultimately by a marketplace in terms of pre-existing conditions,” said Rep. Mark Sanford, one of the co-sponsors of the bill. He said the existing system is “fundamentally flawed for the way that it drives costs and makes the overall system unsustainable.”
Sanford, of South Carolina, said the bill addresses this question by making insurance portable from job to job and incentivizes good behavior for individuals staying on health insurance plans.
The caucus told reporters in a news conference Wednesday that they will seek a vote on their legislation within days of a vote repealing the Affordable Care Act. But after months of debate over repeal and replace, the members of the caucus acknowledge that putting a proposal forward will spark a new round of health care debates on Capitol Hill.
“The minute you put anything on paper now it won't be that you don't have a plan, it will be the merits of that plan and that's where the debate should be,” said Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina. He added that an earlier Senate proposal by Senators Bill Cassidy and Susan Collins did not align with conservative principles because it retained some of the more well-liked aspects of the Affordable Care Act.
Meadows said the House Freedom Caucus bill draws from many of the proposals put forward by recently confirmed Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, which means the chances for consensus are good.