House Republicans to Offer ACA ‘Relief’ in Coming Days

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By Colleen Murphy

House Republicans will hold a special conference meeting on Feb. 16 to dig further into details of a plan to repeal the ACA, including a promise to offer relief from the law’s tax provisions.

The meeting will center on “further educating members of the conference on what the options are and what some of the principles are that will be built into a Republican bill,” Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) told reporters Feb. 14. Sanford on Feb. 15 will likely unveil a House companion to Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) ACA replacement bill (S. 222).

Lawmakers are also meeting this week to hash out specific elements of the Affordable Care Act: Medicaid, tax credits and health savings accounts, and high-risk pools.

Republican lawmakers have prioritized repealing and replacing the ACA in the early part of this congressional session, though the road to repeal has been rocky, as lawmakers failed to reach an early consensus on how to handle the law’s tax provisions and waited for guidance from Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), who the Senate approved to be Health and Human Services secretary on Feb. 10.

“We’re working on solutions that will provide relief to hardworking families that have been damaged by the Obamacare taxes, the penalties and the mandates,” Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) said during a Feb. 14 news conference. The committee has vowed to “deliver relief” from the law’s myriad tax provisions in the coming days and weeks, according to a Feb. 14 statement.

If all ACA taxes are repealed initially, the law’s replacement will be “substantially less than what we have now,” Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) said Feb. 14. Cassidy kept the taxes in place in his replacement bill, which he introduced in late January. The law’s penalties will likely be scrapped in the first reconciliation bill, and others—such as the health insurance fee or the tax on medical devices—could be addressed as part of a second reconciliation bill or as part of tax overhaul legislation that Republican leaders are planning to act on later in the year, Cassidy said.

Coming Up

The House Freedom Caucus was to vote late Feb. 14 on which replacement bill to formally support after not reaching a decision Feb. 13, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the caucus chairman, told reporters. Meadows began canvassing members last week to see if there was an 80 percent majority opinion on one plan that has already been released, such as the Paul bill or another from Cassidy and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine).

Freedom Caucus members can split from the caucus on two votes each congressional session, Meadows said. The caucus unanimously voted Feb. 13 not to support any repeal effort that doesn’t go as far as the 2015 bill that was passed but vetoed by former President Barack Obama.

But as House leaders push for consensus this time around, Meadows predicted one hiccup: there aren’t enough votes to pass refundable tax credits.

Refundable tax credits are incorporated in the House GOP tax overhaul blueprint that the leadership released in June. The credits can reduce an individual’s tax debt below zero, allowing for a tax refund. Individuals would need to present a Social Security number to claim the refundable portion of the child tax credit, an effort to avoid fraud, according to the blueprint.

Take It Easy

Some Republican lawmakers offered words of caution as pressure builds for the release of a detailed repeal and replacement plan.

The law must be repealed and replaced, but lawmakers must “do it in a fair and reasonable way without bringing the plane down right away,” Rep. James B. Renacci (R-Ohio), a member of Ways and Means, told Bloomberg BNA. The ACA has been in place for several years and it may take a few years for a new plan to be implemented, he said.

The Freedom Caucus has called for a replacement bill at the same time as a repeal effort, something President Donald Trump has also sought.

While lawmakers still are planning to repeal all of the law’s taxes, “to demand that we take everything all at one time is not realistic,” Rep. Tom Rice (R-S.C.), another Ways and Means member, told Bloomberg BNA.

“We need to repeal and replace, but we have to do it in a way that’s the least disruptive,” he said.

With assistance from Sara Hansard in Washington.

To contact the reporter on this story: Colleen Murphy in Washington at cmurphy@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Meg Shreve at mshreve@bna.com

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