Politics

House Passes GOP Bill to Begin Repeal of Obamacare

Republicans expressed jubilation Thursday after passing a measure that effectively dismantles the Affordable Care Act, former President Barack Obama’s signature piece of legislation.

The bill eliminates taxes on the wealthy, insurers and others. It also ends the individual mandate imposed in Obama’s law.

The bill, which passed 217-213 in the House, now moves to the Senate for vote, even without a financial analysis from the Congressional Budget Office to determine how much the health care plan will cost and how many people will be affected.

About 20 Republicans voted against the legislation, including Reps. Barbara Comstock of Virginia, Pat Meehan of Pennsylvania and Dave Reichert of Washington.

However, it wasn’t enough.

“This is a shameful day for the House,” Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Maryland) said in a statement. “The GOP burned the midnight oil and horse-traded behind closed doors to rush this bill to the floor to blindly fulfill a campaign promise and give this inept administration a desperately needed political victory.”

Instead of the subsidies that are tied to income and premiums in Obamacare, the new plan reportedly provides Americans with refundable tax credits based mainly on age to purchase health insurance.

Insurers will be allowed to charge higher premiums to those in their 50s and early 60s, compared to younger consumers and curtails federal support for Medicaid.

After 2020, states that expanded Medicaid would no longer receive enhanced federal funding to cover low-income adults, and those that hadn’t expanded would be immediately barred from doing so.

“The Republican health care proposal is a $600 billion tax cut for insurance company executives that would take coverage away from millions of Americans,” said Congressional Black Caucus Chair Cedric Richmond (D-Louisiana).

“In addition, the proposal would eliminate essential benefits for Americans like prescription drugs, maternity care, and protections for people with pre-existing conditions,” he said.

Richmond continued, “Instead of working with Democrats to strengthen our nation’s health care system, Republicans have made a bad bill worse in order appease extremists in their party. This bill would be even more devastating for the health of African Americans and other vulnerable communities than the last failed Republican bill.”

The Senate must now consider the plan, which under the plan passed by the House will also allow states to relax some key Obamacare protections of those with pre-existing conditions, which are among the health reform law’s most popular provisions.

States could apply for waivers to allow insurers to offer skimpier policies that don’t cover the 10 essential health benefits mandated by Obamacare, according to a CNN analyst of the measure.

Also, insurers would be able to charge higher premiums to those with medical issues if they let their coverage lapse. States requesting waivers would have to set up programs like high-risk pools to protect insurers from high-cost patients.

An eleventh-hour amendment that helped seal the missing GOP votes adds $8 billion over five years to fund high-risk pools and go toward patients with pre-existing conditions in states that seek waivers under the Republican legislation.

The legislation already included $130 billion in the fund.

The GOP’s plan would eliminate the Obamacare subsidies, which are refundable tax credits based on a person’s income and cost of coverage in their area. More than eight in 10 enrollees on the Obamacare exchanges receive this assistance, but individuals making more than $47,500 and families of four earning more than $97,200 do not qualify.

Instead, the Republicans will provide refundable tax credits to help people afford coverage on the individual market, but those credits will be based mainly on a person’s age.

The credits will range from $2,000 for 20-somethings to $4,000 for those in their early 60s.

The credits will also have an income cap. Those making more than $75,000 would see their tax credits start to phase out, and an enrollee making more than $215,000 would not be eligible, a CNN analyst noted.

Families with incomes above $150,000 would see their credits dwindle, while those earning more than $290,000 would not be qualify.

The bill would also kill the additional help that individuals earning less than roughly $30,000 a year receive to cover their out-of-pocket costs. More than half of the enrollees on the Obamacare exchanges receive these cost-sharing subsidies.

The GOP bill doesn’t touch one important piece of Obamacare — allowing children to stay on their parents’ insurance plans until the age of 26.

But, opponents of the bill also took issue with Republicans for scheduling the vote before the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office analyzed the measure.

The CBO had previously noted that the bill comes at a high cost to Americans and would effectively leave 24 million people without coverage.

“Their rush to pass this bill shows that Republicans are terrified about its effects,” said House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California. “They have this vote tattooed on them. This is a scar that they will carry.

“From the beginning, Trumpcare has meant higher health costs, more than 24 million hardworking Americans losing health coverage, gutting key protections, a crushing age tax, and stealing from Medicare,” she said. “Trumpcare spells heart-stopping premium increases for Americans with anything from asthma to cancer.”

Hector Figueroa, president of 32BJ SEIU, a branch of the labor union representing more than 150,000 workers throughout the northeastern U.S., called on the Senate to protect the working class from an “extremist administration.”

“The GOP House majority is teaming up with  an administration of the 1 percent and for the 1 percent with a clear goal: to take away health care from millions of people, cut taxes to the rich and push an agenda designed to favor the powerful and wealthy over the needs of working families,” Figueroa said. “Cheering the passage of a bill that will strip affordable health coverage from tens of millions — as House Republicans are doing — is a disgrace that all decent people should denounce.”

William J. Ford contributed to this story.

Stacy M. Brown

I’ve worked for the Daily News of Los Angeles, the L.A. Times, Gannet and the Times-Tribune and have contributed to the Pocono Record, the New York Post and the New York Times. Television news opportunities have included: NBC, MSNBC, Scarborough Country, the Abrams Report, Today, Good Morning America, NBC Nightly News, Imus in the Morning and Anderson Cooper 360. Radio programs like the Wendy Williams Experience, Tom Joyner Morning Show and the Howard Stern Show have also provided me the chance to share my views.

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