Democrats say GOP plan for replacing Obama health care overhaul would hurt consumers

WASHINGTON – A plan by three Republican lawmakers for replacing President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul would leave Americans with less coverage and higher costs than the landmark law they want to repeal, Democrats said Thursday.

“It effectively raises taxes on the middle class, removes bedrock protections for consumers and chips away at key coverage benefits that Americans rely on,” Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, said a day after the GOP authors released their outline.

“Republicans are trying to put politics first, put power back in the hands of insurance companies rather than patients,” said Washington Sen. Patty Murray, leading Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Democrats have lambasted Republicans for promising to repeal and replace the health care overhaul virtually since its 2010 enactment yet failing to advance a substitute. Republicans face growing pressure to suggest a replacement plan because 19 million Americans will be covered under Obama’s law this year, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates.

The plan, not yet in legislative language, erases the existing law’s coverage requirements for individuals and employers. It eliminates the state and federal insurance marketplaces where insurance can be purchased and abolishes taxes the law imposes on medical devices and other things.

The GOP relies largely on tax credits and greater flexibility for insurers and states to provide coverage.

People at firms with 100 or fewer employees could get tax credits, as would people earning up to triple the federal poverty level. That would mean individuals earning up to approximately $35,000, and larger amounts for families, would qualify.

Democrats say that would increase taxes because the GOP plan proposes a lower threshold than current law, which allows federal subsidies for individuals earning up to around $47,000, more for families.

In an opinion column in Thursday’s USA Today, the plan was defended by its three authors: Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah; Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C.; and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich.

People “would no longer be subject to an individual mandate and limited to Washington-approved plans,” they wrote.

Translating the principles into a bill could be time-consuming, postponing the political vulnerability possible when ideas become detailed legislation.

GOP aides said there were no official estimates of cost or the numbers of people their plan would cover. They said they believed their plan would save money and be competitive with coverage under Obama’s program.

The GOP plan would eliminate Obama’s expansion of Medicaid, the federal-state health insurance program for the poor. Instead, states would be given more freedom to decide how to spend the money.

As under Obama’s law, insurers would be required to include children up to age 26 under their families’ policies, though states could ignore that. Unlike Obama’s requirement for maternity coverage, states could choose not to do so.

There would be no lifetime limits on coverage, as with current law.

People with pre-existing medical conditions could not be turned down for insurance. But for many who had a gap in coverage exceeding roughly two months, insurers could charge them more for a policy, congressional aides said.

The GOP plan would tax the value of employer-provided health coverage exceeding $12,000 for individuals and $30,000 for families, amounts that would grow as inflation rises.