Senior Republican senators said Sunday that Congress would extend Obamacare health insurance subsidies for a “transitional period” should the Supreme Court rule that they aren’t allowed in at least 34 states.
Meanwhile, Republicans would design an alternative policy for those states that would provide “the freedom and flexibility to create better, more competitive health insurance markets offering more options and different choices,” the senators wrote in a Washington Post op-ed.
The Supreme Court will hear arguments Wednesday in a case challenging whether subsidies that help an estimated 7.5 million people pay for health insurance are legal nationwide. A decision is expected in June.
The case, brought by opponents of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, has the potential to gut the law known as Obamacare in most of the country, an outcome that would be celebrated by most Republicans. However, it has presented a policy challenge to congressional Republicans, who will face pressure to preserve insurance coverage in the event the court eliminates subsidies in most states.
“First and most important: We would provide financial assistance to help Americans keep the coverage they picked for a transitional period,” Senators Orrin Hatch of Utah, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and John Barrasso of Wyoming wrote in the op-ed. “It would be unfair to allow families to lose their coverage, particularly in the middle of the year.”
Hatch chairs the Senate Finance Committee, Alexander chairs the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and Barrasso is the Republicans’ policy committee chairman, the fourth-ranking position in their leadership.
The op-ed represents the first time senior congressional Republicans have committed to preserving Obamacare’s subsidies, at least for a limited time. The senators didn’t say how long the tax credits would continue to be available, and they didn’t detail their alternative policy or say when it would be implemented.
Republicans have struggled since passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010 to craft an alternative policy that a majority of their party could support.
It was not clear whether the three senators spoke for their party. Spokespeople for the Senate majority leader, Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, didn’t immediately respond to e- mails late Sunday asking for comment.
Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Representative Paul Ryan, the Republican chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said in an e-mail to “stay tuned for our proposal” to respond to a court ruling against the government. Ryan would release the proposal “in due time,” Buck said.
Ryan has previously said that Republicans would develop a “contingency plan” for a court ruling and that affected states would be offered a “bridge out of Obamacare.”
The case is King v. Burwell, 14-114.
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