GOP Congress returns with big blanks to fill on health care

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After talking for the past six years about why they would repeal and then replace the Obama health law, Republicans lawmakers in the Congress return to Washington this week with many in both parties still waiting to see exactly what choices the GOP will make on changes to the nation’s health care system.

“Republican Senators are leading the charge to repeal Obamacare,” said Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) on Sunday.

Just before the Congress left town for a ten day break, Speaker Paul Ryan said he would be ready as early as this week to roll out the fine print of the GOP plan.

“After the House returns, following the President’s Day (break), we intend to introduce legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare,” Ryan said.

The broad outlines of what the GOP wants to do are well known – but for reporters, industry lobbyists and lawmakers, the missing piece here is the nitty gritty details of the legislative text that will be extraordinarily important – along with the cost estimates from the Congressional Budget Office.

So far, we have neither when it comes to the GOP health plans.

In the meantime, the GOP message is much the same as it has been for the past few years – Obamacare did not work, and will not work in the future, so it must be replaced.

The Speaker issued his own “Better Way” plan for health care reform back in June – but it has never been translated publicly into actual bill language, and no estimates have been released on the budgetary numbers.

Among the important unanswered questions for Republicans:

+ How much will the GOP health care bill cost
+ What parts of the Obama health law will be kept (staying on insurance until age 26, preexisting conditions have often been mentioned by GOP lawmakers)
+ How many people would be expected to gain or lose coverage
+ What taxes from the Obama health law will be repealed, changed or kept in place
+ How will the plan deal with expanded Medicaid eligibility, which has prompted questions from some GOP Governors
+ How will subsidies under the Obama health law be changed

Many more details would be in the fine print of the bill.

Republicans return to Capitol Hill after watching some of their colleagues take it on the chin at town hall meetings on the issue of health care, as supporters of the Obama health law tried to use the Congressional break of the past week to put GOP lawmakers on the defensive over possible changes.

My readout of the current situation in Congress has not changed one bit in the last few years – Republicans want to get rid of the Obama health law and institute their own policy changes, but they still don’t have one single plan that GOP lawmakers have agreed to vote for.

There are a number of cross-currents inside the Republican Party that may make it difficult to get a majority on any GOP plan in both the House and Senate.

And then there is the opposition of Democrats in the Congress, as they are more than ready to pounce on the actual details.

The time line for the GOP is to roll out the plan in coming weeks, and then have a vote on it before the House and Senate go home on a break for Easter.

We will be here every step of the way in the halls of Congress with the latest details.


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