Replacement Takes Shape

by Andrew Stiles

Speaking to reporters today, four Republican House committee chairmen offered a glimpse of what the “replace” portion of the GOP pledge to undo Obamacare could look like in the coming months. A lot of the ideas will sound familiar to those who followed last year’s health care debate, but this time Republicans are promising the “open process” they feel they were denied the last time.

Rep. Fred Upton (R., Mich.), Energy and Commerce chair, said his committee has already taken steps toward replacement, having sent a letter to the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight inquiring about the waivers issued to some unions and companies exempting them from the “harsh mandates” of the current health-care law.

Upton is also co-sponsor, with Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.), of legislation that would allow for the purchase of health insurance across state lines, a key component of the GOP health-care platform. “Why is it that you can buy car insurance across state lines and not health insurance?” Upton asked. “Competition does work, we know that, and we should allow it to work for health insurance as well.”

Rep. Dave Camp (R., Mich.), Ways and Means chairman, said his committee would aggressively examine the health-care law “through the same prism we are going to at other issues: jobs, economic growth, and creating a strong and vibrant private sector,” beginning with a hearing next week to address the law’s many new regulations and tax mandates. “We’re not going to waste any time getting to work,” he said.

Education and Workforce chairman John Kline (R., Minn.) promised an open process this time around, insisting that no new legislation would be “jammed through” the way Republicans feel Obamacare was last year. “The process” of real health-care reform, he said, “starts with aggressive oversight of current law.” Kline also said his committee would be specifically focused on the law’s employer mandate, which forces business to choose between providing employee health insurance or paying a penalty.

The House Judiciary Committee, which held its first hearing today on medical liability reform, will focus on ways to eliminate “frivolous” lawsuits against medical personnel. Chairman Lamar Smith (R., Texas) said he would introduce a reform bill next week that would save “tens of billions every year.” Beyond that, Smith said his committee would also hold hearings to tackle broader questions about the law’s constitutionality.

The Republicans dismissed criticism that the GOP is focusing too much time and energy on health care, as opposed to job creation. “Just because we’re going to be looking at the impact of this health-care law doesn’t mean that committees won’t be actively engaged in other aspects of our responsibilities,” Kline said. “We don’t have limit ourselves to one subject at a time.”

Camp pointed out that the two issues were related. “The overarching point [of these hearings] is to find out how [the law] going to effect jobs and what can we do to have a modern patient-centered health-care system that will actually not get in the way of economic growth,” he said.

He also emphasized that Republicans want the debate over health care to be different this time around. “We’re going to make sure that we have an open and deliberative process, we’re actually going to hear from people throughout society,” Camp said. “That was something that was lacking in the process last time.”

Upton said that he told his committee members he would give first priority to bipartisan amendments to pieces of legislation, to encourage lawmakers to reach across the aisle.

As for when a “replacement” bill (or bills) would be introduced and what it (or they) might look like, the chairmen said they would follow the guidance of House Speaker John Boehner — who has said he would not set any “artificial deadlines” for replacement — and would abide by the “regular process.”

According to Camp, it has has long been the GOP position that “we can’t solve every problem under the sun in regard to health care in one bill,” so Republicans would likely introduce smaller legislation on a piece-by-piece basis. But what do Republican ultimately hope to accomplish? “One of the focuses needs to be getting costs down,” Camp said. “Obviously if we can get costs down, the opportunity to afford health care goes up.”