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The fight over the future of the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, kicked off in earnest Wednesday with both Democratic and Republican leaders laying out their cases for saving and dismantling the healthcare law, respectively.
The day after Senate Republicans introduced a resolution that would repeal a large chunk of President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law through the budget reconciliation process, lawmakers met privately with their party’s leaders, who pushed their plans for the future of healthcare in America.
Vice President-elect Mike Pence and Obama met with congressional leaders of their parties on Wednesday to map out the road ahead. Each side ended the day with a more firmed-up sales pitch.
Much like Republicans’ two-pronged promise to “repeal and replace” the ACA, the GOP’s new path forward is marked by two distinct messages.
On one hand, Republicans emphasized that the Obamacare markets are collapsing on their own and must therefore be overhauled. On another, GOP leaders stressed the need for a “smooth” transition to a new plan that may not come as quickly as many of their constituents likely expect.
Republicans leaders have been attacking the healthcare law for years, with leaders such as President-elect Donald Trump, House Speaker Paul Ryan, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell all saying repeal of the law would be an immediate priority for the new Congress.
That gung-ho attitude seems to have cooled in recent days, as Republicans leaders have cited the need to ensure that the over 20 million people that have gained healthcare through the ACA retain their coverage.
Ryan cited the need for a “stable” transition to a replacement during a press conference Wednesday, while Pence stressed “an orderly and smooth transition to a market-based healthcare reform system.”
Other Republicans lawmakers, including Sens. Rand Paul and John McCain, also emphasized the need to be cautious on repeal without a replacement plan in place.
They were echoed by Trump, who in a series of tweets on Wednesday morning cautioned Republicans to “be careful” to make sure Democrats “own the failed Obamacare disaster” instead of having any future problems pegged on the GOP.
Pence cited the increases in premiums for Obamacare exchange plans and deductible increases as reasons the law needed to be replaced. Republicans as a whole argued that even if there are disruptions or kinks, Obamacare was failing anyway, so change will be necessary.
“We’re talking about people’s lives. We’re talking about families,” Pence said.
- Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
‘Make America Sick Again’
For their part, Democrats made an attempt to lay problems arising from any tweaking of Obamacare at the feet of Republicans. They came with a slogan blaring that repeal would “Make America Sick Again” – a play on Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign moniker.
Additionally, Democrats looked to peg any lapses in care or other disruptions in the healthcare market on the GOP.
In a press conference Wednesday, new Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer cited concerns from health-policy experts that a Republican plan to repeal the law and delay its replacement would cause instability in the individual health insurance market and large price hikes. Schumer said such a process would cause “chaos” in insurance markets.
Obama, devoting one of his last days in office to the future of his signature legislative achievement, told Democratic leaders to start to call any changes “Trumpcare” and not to “rescue” Republicans by compromising on replacement plans, according to CNN.
Democrats also touted the successes of the law – including the lowest uninsured rate in the history of the country, the provision that prevents insurers from denying coverage based on a preexisting condition, and the elimination of lifetime limits on coverage. These aspects of the law have been overwhelmingly popular with the American public.
“They want to repeal it and then try to hang it on us. Not going to happen. It’s their responsibility, plain and simple,” Schumer said Wednesday.
The dueling message campaigns come at a time when the American public remains split over its provisions and its overall future. The Kaiser Family Foundation found in December that 49% of Americans want to expand or keep the ACA as it is now, while 43% of those surveyed preferred to repeal the law entirely or roll back what it does.