House conservatives submit bill to replace 'ObamaCare,' amid 'defund' fight
A group of House conservatives introduced legislation Wednesday that members say will replace ObamaCare and its “unworkable” taxes and mandates with a plan that expands tax breaks for Americans who buy their own insurance.
Under the proposal endorsed by the 175-member Republican Study Committee, Americans who purchase coverage through state-run exchanges can claim a $7,500 deduction against their income and payroll taxes, regardless of the cost of the insurance. Families could deduct $20,000.
The plan -- which appears to be congressional Republicans' first comprehensive alternative to President Obama's health care overhaul -- also increases government funding for high-risk pools. The plan serves as a rebuttal to Obama's claims that Republicans just want to eliminate the health law and are no longer interested in replacing it. And it comes as House Republicans, on a different track, prepare to vote on a budget bill that would also de-fund the existing health care law. Democrats have vowed to oppose that bill, warning the strategy risks a government shutdown, with funding set to expire by Oct. 1.
Roughly 75 percent of rank-and-file House Republicans are on the study committee, and the new legislation is being formally presented at a time when leaders of the GOP-led chamber have yet to advance any comprehensive alternative to ObamaCare.
Lawmakers have voted more than 40 times on repealing part or all of the 2010 law, despite Republicans vowing over the past three years to "repeal and replace" the existing law.
“We can lower health care costs and fix real problems without a government-run system that puts unelected Washington bureaucrats between you and your doctor,” said Louisiana Republican Rep. Steve Scalise, the committee chairman.
Scalise also said the group wants an alternative that lowers health care costs and increases access and is going to push for a full House vote, which would call for a full repeal of ObamaCare that Republicans have opposed from the start.
House Speaker John Boehner said on Wednesday that chamber Republicans will pass a budget bill this week that withholds funding for ObamaCare.
The effort stands little chance in the Democratic-controlled Senate, setting up a showdown that could push the government toward a partial shutdown at the end of the month. Funding to operate the federal government runs out at the end of September.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said the House will also push to delay the health care law for a year as part of a plan to extend the government's ability to borrow. He said debt ceiling talks will include a path forward on tax reform and approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.
Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., who led a small group that drafted the study committee measure, said the tax deduction would ensure that individuals and families enjoy "the same buying power" as employers who are permitted to deduct the cost of coverage they provide to their workers.
He also said the commitment of $25 billion over 10 years to defray the cost of coverage for high-risk patients would ease a problem caused when funding provided under Obama's plan ran out. Premiums in the high-risk pools would be capped at twice the average cost of insurance sold in the state.
Individuals with pre-existing conditions who already have coverage would generally be permitted to shift existing insurance without fear of losing it.
The legislation also includes expanded access to health savings accounts, which are tax-preferred accounts used to pay medical expenses by consumers enrolled in high-deductible coverage plans.
The RSC legislation includes a number of proposals that Republicans long have backed to expand access and hold down the cost of health care, including features that permit companies to sell policies across state lines and that let small businesses join together to seek better rates from insurers.
In addition, awards for pain and suffering, emotional distress and similar noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases would be capped at $250,000, unless a state had a higher cap.
No overall cost estimates for the bill were available.
The legislation contains no provision to assure insurance coverage for millions of lower-income Americans who are scheduled under current law to be enrolled in Medicaid, a state-federal health care program for the poor.
Nor are there replacements for several of the requirements the current law imposes on insurance companies, including one that requires them to retain children up to the age of 26 on their parents' coverage plan and another barring lifetime limits on coverage.
Internal divisions have plagued Republicans this year as they struggle to produce alternatives to the Obama plan. Legislation backed by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., to increase funding for high-risk pools was pulled without a vote after some conservatives objected to improving ObamaCare at a time when they want to repeal it.
Obama and Democrats frequently criticize Republicans for focusing so much attention on repeal efforts without coming up with an alternative.