Conservatives just made Obamacare repeal more difficult

Paul ryanWin McNamee/Getty ImagesHouse Speaker Paul Ryan

The House Freedom Caucus, a conservative wing of the Republican party, voted Monday night to support a swift and aggressive repeal of the Affordable Care Act, adding a new complication into GOP efforts to unite around a plan to repeal and replace the law better known as Obamacare.

According to reports, the Freedom Caucus said it would not back a repeal if it did not include all of the elements of a repeal bill that debuted in 2015. They also said they wanted to quickly repeal the law, even if there is no replacement bill at the ready.

The 2015 repeal bill, which was passed by the GOP in Congress but vetoed by President Barack Obama, included the repeal of the individual mandate, Medicaid expansion, and taxes to fund premium subsidies that aid people in paying for coverage.

Currently, Republicans are in the midst of drafting a repeal bill via budget resolution that would allow them to repeal any part of the ACA that involves the federal budget.

But the vote by the House Freedom Caucus could complicate the timeline of a repeal and replace. Disagreements over what elements to put into a repeal and what to include in a second overhaul bill may make a cohesive vote from Republicans harder to come by.

Some more moderate lawmakers have softened their approach and considered keeping some of the ACA’s provisions as part of the repeal, which the Freedom Caucus now has taken an aggressive stance against. Even in some deeply red states, GOP lawmakers have been bombarded at town halls by constituents who have expressed concerns about the law’s repeal.

With Democrats vowing to oppose the changes at every turn, Republicans need to ensure they rally around a single bill to accomplish repeal. According to Politico, the Freedom Caucus said it has 50 members signed onto its outlook on the repeal.

Part of the concern from Freedom Caucus members is that not acting swiftly and decisively on a repeal could threaten the long-term success of an overhaul of President Barack Obama’s healthcare law, with support for the changes potentially losing steam and becoming bogged down in Congress.

By pushing for a fast and total repeal, Freedom Caucus members hope to force moderate Republicans and some Democrats into crafting a replacement.

“It’s our hope that in doing so it will bring some others along for a replacement bill once they understand that it has been repealed that you get some Democrats and certainly more moderate Republicans to work in earnest with replacement,” Rep. Mark Meadows, a Freedom Caucus member, told Politico.

Republicans have been considering measures to stabilise the individual markets set up by the ACA in order to ensure that American with coverage through these exchanges are able to keep it while a replacement is developed. Some GOP members have stressed they need to “repair” the law before they repeal and replace it.

Additionally, a number of Republican governors and lawmakers in states that have expanded Medicaid through the ACA have expressed a desire to keep this aspect of the law in order to cover more poor families in their state. If a bill similar to the 2015 repeal bill were to be passed, it would end federal funding for that expansion.

Health policy experts have been concerned that a repeal, or serious steps towards a repeal without a replacement, could lead insurers to leave these markets, potentially destabilizing them and causing large cost increases and coverage lapses. In fact, some large insurers are already questioning their involvement in individual markets next year, given the uncertainty over the GOP plan.

House Speaker Paul Ryan has offered a few timelines on the repeal and replacement of the law. He has said “the legislating” will be done by the end of the year, that it will be done by the end of the summer, and that it will be done by the end of the first quarter of the year.

Even with the statement by conservative members of the House, the timeline for the repeal remains unclear.

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