Repeal of Obamacare? Herbert issues caution, Stewart says replacement ‘in the works’

Gov. Gary Herbert gives his 2017 inauguration speech at the state Capitol, Salt Lake City, Jan. 4, 2017 | Photo courtesy of the Office of Gov. Gary Herbert, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — As the reality of a looming repeal of President Barack Obama’s health care law sets in, several Republican lawmakers are scrambling to minimize any fallout that may result.

Gov. Gary Herbert cautioned U.S. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, in a letter last week that coverage for about 180,000 Utah residents would be jeopardized if “Obamacare” is repealed without a replacement plan.

“As we work to re-craft healthcare in our country we must be careful not to increase the rate of uninsured, particularly for our most vulnerable citizens,” the governor wrote.

Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La. listens at left as Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill to announce the Patient Freedom Act of 2017, a possible GOP replacement bill for the Affordable Care Act, Washington, Monday, Jan. 23, 2017 | Photo by J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press, St. George News

Republican senators Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Susan Collins of Maine announced Monday they will be proposing legislation allowing individual states to keep the law in place should it be repealed at the federal level.

“It has been a Republican principle that power is best held by individuals and states, not the federal government,” Cassidy said.

A replacement to the health care law could take years to implement, Herbert said, adding that Utah’s citizens can’t wait that long. He noted that in the six years since the law was enacted Utah’s uninsured rate dropped from 14 percent to 10.5 percent.

The proposal to keep “Obamacare” intact at the state level is an idea not shared by President Donald Trump or Republican congressional leaders who campaigned on repealing the law.

However, an outright repeal would require a Senate supermajority of 60 seats and the GOP currently only holds 52, eight seats short of the filibuster-proof 3/5 majority. Allowing individual states to retain the law may sway democratic senators to favor of the repeal, Cassidy argued.

In this file photo, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert speaks with reporters during a news conference at the Utah State Capitol, Salt Lake City, Utah, Feb 17, 2016 | Photo by Rick Bowmer, Associated Press, St. George News

Herbert proposed that any replacement give states broad control of health markets and greater authority over Medicaid.

Under the senators’ proposal, states that opt not to retain Obama’s law would be able to provide high deductible plans with coverage for basic services or health savings accounts if the cost of traditional plans is prohibitive.

While repealing the law remains at the top of the agenda for the president and GOP-controlled Congress, lawmakers are still actively in talks about what such a repeal would entail. Congressional Republicans plan to meet later this week at a retreat to discuss health care.

Meanwhile, in a statement issued Jan. 13, Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, sought to reassure Utahns that a replacement is already in the works.

I want to reassure my constituents that we are quickly working on a replacement plan. We’ve already laid the foundation for multiple pieces of straightforward legislation, not a comprehensive, overly complex, and confusing 3,000-page bill like Obamacare. Our legislation will make it easier and cheaper to get portable insurance, increases access to and flexibility of Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), reforms medical liability laws, spurs competition between insurers and protects individuals with pre-existing conditions.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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