As Senate Moves to Repeal Obamacare Only, Expert Says Lawmakers Should Keep Promise to Replace It As Well

'The law is in a death spiral'

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell and Senate Majority Whip Sen. John Cornyn / Getty Images
July 19, 2017

Next week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) is planning to begin a motion for debate to repeal Obamacare only, after the Senate's replacement bill could not gain enough votes to pass. Sally Pipes, president and CEO of the Pacific Research Institute, warns that lawmakers should keep their promise to the American people to repeal and replace Obamacare with market-based solutions.

The Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017 eliminated Obamacare's taxes and mandates in an attempt to lower premiums and out-of-pocket costs. But the bill quickly drew criticism from conservative Republicans who said it does not go far enough to repeal Obamacare.

Late on Monday, Sen. Mike Lee (R., Utah) and Sen. Jerry Moran (R., Kans.) said they were planning to vote no for the Senate's replacement, which meant that roughly four senators would block the bill. Following this, McConnell essentially announced the bill was dead.

"Regretfully, it is now apparent that the effort to repeal and immediately replace the failure of Obamacare will not be successful," he said.

Pipes says she doesn't think McConnell will get enough votes for repeal only.

"The idea is they would repeal it, and then they would spend the next two years working on the replacement plan, which I also think is a disaster because the Republicans spent the last seven years and four months saying they would repeal and replace Obamacare and look where we are now," she said. "It's unfortunate that with 52 senators they weren't able to get together and say we promised to repeal and replace Obamacare."

Pipes said the Senate's replacement was essentially "Obamacare lite" and something Democrats could build on in the future to bring Obamacare back in full force. She says the replacement needs to be focused on market-based reforms that Republicans often touted over the past eight years.

"Now I know there's some difference among the various factions within the party but we need to have a plan to go ahead," she said. "The idea that came up yesterday—negotiating with Democrats and having a bipartisan replacement I just think is a terrible idea."

The Democrats "are not interested in a market-based replacement plan," she said. "They are interested in moving the ball down the field to ultimately getting what Obama wanted, I believe all along, which was a single-payer Medicare-for-all system."

The Republican party has been divided on the replacement with opinions varying from Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.), who say the bill doesn't go far enough to repeal Obamacare, to moderates like Sen. Susan Collins (R., Maine).

"The Republicans promised that they would end Medicaid expansion and in fact its ridiculous 74 million Americans are on Medicaid today and the program is not working for a lot of those people because they can't get doctors," Pipes said.

"Then you've got the people on the right—the Rand Pauls, the Ron Johnsons, the Mike Lees, and Cruz, who want a real repeal and replacement—getting rid of the mandates, the essential health benefit plan getting rid of the Medicaid expansion, getting rid of the tax subsidies," she said. "That’s the kind of bill they should have been talking about, but to get these people to come together after this has been out in the public, I think it’s going to be hard."

"As I said, I think McConnell, right after the inauguration on January 20, he should have sat these people down and said we made a commitment to the American people, and you're just going to have to get over it," she said. "Some of them voted in 2015 for the repeal bill and now they are against it and it’s all because they are worried about being reelected."

"The key thing is that the Republicans promised the American people repeal and replacement of Obamacare," she said. "The premiums are too high for many people, the deductibles are too high, if people have coverage in the exchanges to use it, the insurers are getting out of the market, the networks of doctors and hospitals are getting smaller and smaller—that’s a way for insurers to cut costs."

"So the law is in a death spiral and so they should be keeping with their commitment to offer Americans choices in their health care," she said.