WASHINGTON (Reuters)—Republicans delivered their biggest blow yet to Obamacare in their tax overhaul that won final congressional approval on Wednesday, and delayed until 2018 consideration of legislation that could help mitigate some of the damage to the 2010 law.
The $1.5 trillion tax bill, the biggest overhaul of the U.S. tax code in three decades that now awaits Republican President Donald Trump’s signature, includes a provision that removes a penalty imposed under Obamacare for Americans who do not obtain health insurance, a central tenet of the healthcare law.
The aim of the penalty was to force younger and healthier Americans to buy coverage to help offset the cost of sicker patients. The penalty helped to uphold a popular Obamacare provision requiring insurers to charge healthy people and those with a pre-existing medical condition the same rates.
Republicans have opposed the law formally known as the Affordable Care Act, the signature domestic policy achievement of Trump’s Democratic predecessor Barack Obama, since its inception. Intraparty divisions this year prevented them from repealing and replacing Obamacare, a top campaign promise, despite controlling Congress and the White House.
But gutting the so-called individual mandate penalty significantly weakens the law. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said 13 million people will lose coverage over the next decade, and insurance premiums will rise 10% annually for most years over the same period.
“We have essentially repealed Obamacare,” Trump told a meeting of his Cabinet at the White House. “And we’ll come up with something that will be much better, whether it’s block grants (to the states) or whether it’s taking what we have and doing something terrific.”
2018 Battles Loom
Delaying action on three bills – two that would help stabilize the online markets set up under Obamacare to help individuals obtain insurance and another that would reauthorize a children’s health program – sets up fresh battles over healthcare in Congress early next year.
Republican Senator Susan Collins previously had said her vote for the Republican tax legislation hinged in part on a promise from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to pass the Obamacare stabilization bills by the end of the year.
Collins and fellow Republican Senator Lamar Alexander, who together co-sponsored the two Obamacare stabilization measures, said they dropped their demand after it became clear that Congress would be able to pass only a short-term funding bill to keep the government open past Friday rather than a bill covering the remainder of the 2018 fiscal year.