Republicans unveil Obamacare alternative

Republicans in the US House of Representatives unveil long-awaited legislation on Monday to repeal much of the Obamacare healthcare law, including its expansion of the Medicaid program for the poor.
PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM VIDEO

Proposal has not detailed cost of new plan or how many Americans may be covered

WASHINGTON • United States House Republicans have unveiled long-awaited legislation that would repeal and replace the health care reforms known as Obamacare, largely under the framework that President Donald Trump laid out in his recent congressional address.

The American Health Care Act would dismantle several of the core aspects of the Obamacare reforms, including ending related subsidies and taxes. It would also end the requirement for individuals to have insurance, instead providing incentives for people to buy it on the open market.

"After years of Obamacare's broken promises, House Republicans today took an important step," House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Greg Walden said.

Obamacare has stirred controversy since becoming law in 2010 under President Barack Obama and a Congress controlled by Democrats. But it has increased in popularity and is credited with helping 20 million Americans acquire coverage.

Republicans argue, however, that insurance premiums have soared for millions of Americans, and that Obamacare has been a job killer.

The new Bill would preserve two popular Obamacare elements: prohibiting health insurers from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, and allowing dependants to remain on their parents' plans until age 26.

The Republicans have not provided a cost figure for the new plan, or estimates on how many people might be covered.

The legislation requires passage by the House of Representatives and Senate before it goes to Mr Trump for his signature.

The replacement plan has courted controversy for months from within Mr Trump's own party, as some Republican lawmakers warn that the tax credits in the new measure are just a reworked version of Obamacare's existing subsidies.

Under the new Bill, Americans would receive such tax credits amounting to between US$2,000 (S$2,820) and US$14,000 a year that would help low- and middle-income families gain access to health insurance.

Several Republican governors who expanded the low-income Medicaid programme through Obamacare warn that the plan could leave their state budgets underwater. The new Bill ends the Medicaid expansion, opting instead for a block grant system that allows states to use the funding in ways they see fit.

"Today marks an important step towards restoring healthcare choices and affordability back to the American people," White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said.

The first public congressional review of the legislation occurs today when the House Ways and Means Committee and House Energy and Commerce Committee gather to debate and amend the Bill.

Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer blasted the Bill as a "sham" that pads the pockets of the wealthy and insurance companies "at the expense of American families", who will be forced to pay more out of pocket for medical care.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 08, 2017, with the headline 'Republicans unveil Obamacare alternative'. Print Edition | Subscribe