What was to have been a round through media organizations this week by the Health and Human Services Secretary of reminding – or appealing to – Americans to sign up for the Affordable Care Act turned out to be in some part fielding questions about the GOP leadership’s vow to repeal the law under a Donald Trump administration.
President-elect Trump has threatened to repeal the health-care law, which Congress passed in 2010 and the Obama administration has viewed as a key legacy of the president’s tenure. Trump suggested he even was considering convening Congress for a special session to bury the law, saying: “We will do it, and we will do it very, very quickly. It is a catastrophe.”
On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell vowed to abolish the act, citing it as one of the top priorities for the next Congress.
The program has drawn controversy from the start over questions about whether it really is more affordable for many Americans, and over assertions that unlike Obama’s promise, people cannot keep their preferred doctors. Beyond those concerns, critics also say that premiums will soar and coverage options will be fewer in some regions.
HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell cast doubt that Trump and Congress – where Republicans will have control of both the Senate and House – will be able to swiftly abolish the ACA.
“You know, it’s a statutory process, which means laws would need to be changed in order to repeal the Affordable Care Act,” she said to Fox News Latino. “But I think even more important than the process [of repealing the act] is what all these conversations are ever about – the American people.”
Burwell said ACA has made a crucial difference for people with chronic medical problems or pre-existing conditions who were shut out or given limited coverage by many insurers.
“All those are what’s going to be important in terms of how this debate goes forward, because that’s what I mean about moving from the redirect to the reality,” Burwell said. “These issues are issues people care about every day, in terms of how they take care of their families and their own health.”
The three-month-long open enrollment for ACA for this season began on Nov. 1. (Those with questions may call 800-318-2596, where they can have their questions answered in either English or Spanish.)
Burwell made a special appeal to Latinos to sign up.
She said that 4 million Latinos who were uninsured no longer are because of ACA.
“But we know that 2.5 million more (Latinos) are out there and eligible in the market place and most of them are available for financial assistance,” she said, “so we want to encourage everybody between now and January 31, and especially until December 15, when your coverage can start in January.”
Premiums for some health plans under the Affordable Care Act are expected to go up roughly 25 percent in 2017. At the same time, in some states, there will be fewer companies offering coverage, according to published reports.
Burwell concedes that ACA can be improved.
A goal of the administration, she said, is “creating better quality and more affordability.”
“One of the things we are doing is trying to move our health care system to a system that we pay not for each service, but for the quality,” Burwell said. “We’ve been able…to pilot a model for what we have seen for people who are pre-diabetic, that if they participate in this program they can do it through the YMCA, which is very accessible to people.”
Burwell downplayed the looming threat by the GOP about doing away with ACA, saying she expects discussions.
Many experts say it would not be prudent for a program that has given millions of previously uninsured people coverage to be abruptly dropped.
“The clock is ticking, because Republicans appear to be saying health care is going to be the first item on their list with repeal of the ACA being the banner for that,” said Ron Pollack, Families USA’s executive director, said to The Washington Post. “This will be the most intense fight I remember. . . . One should never underestimate an extraordinary backlash that occurs when people have something that they really value and it is taken away.”
They expect that Republicans will come up with an alternative before phasing out or abolishing ACA. Trump has expressed a preference for allowing people to buy insurance that are not part of the ACA exchanges.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters that despite GOP warnings about targeting DACA, the administration will proceed with enrollment.
“This administration is going to continue to make a strong case that people should go to HealthCare.gov, consider the options that are available to them and sign up for health care,” Earnest said, according to published reports.
Elizabeth Llorente is Senior Reporter for FoxNews.com, and can be reached at Elizabeth.Llorente@Foxnews.com. Follow her on Twitter @Liz_Llorente.