Top GOP senators in Obamacare replacement role soften stance on total repeal

Two top Republicans expected to lead the charge in the repealing of the Affordable Care Act said this week they are in favor of repairing it in lieu of a total repeal, which the GOP has aimed to do over the last eight years.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., both spoke about Obamacare and the hurdles the GOP is facing in order to repeal the law in its entirety, according to The Washington Post.

Alexander, the head of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, and Hatch, the head of the Senate Finance Committee, play vital roles in the repeal of the healthcare law.

“I think of it as a collapsing bridge. . . . You send in a rescue team and you go to work to repair it so that nobody else is hurt by it and you start to build a new bridge, and only when that new bridge is complete, people can drive safely across it, do you close the old bridge,” Alexander said.

“When it’s complete, we can close the old bridge, but in the meantime, we repair it. No one is talking about repealing anything until there is a concrete practical alternative to offer Americans in its place.”

Hatch added Thursday that he was “open for anything that will improve the system,” and that he couldn’t wrap his mind around repealing or repairing the healthcare law.

The skepticism surrounding the complete repeal of Obamacare from top GOP senators is a far cry from what President Trump, Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and other Congressional Republicans had their sights set on last month.

The Senate passed a measure which kicked off the first step forward on dismantling Obamacare in a near party-line vote.

"We must act quickly to bring relief to the American people," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said after the vote was finished.

Days later, Republican senators unveiled the replacement bill – a state-centric plan they was touted as “imperfect” but as a tangible start to overhauling Obama’s signature bill.

The bill co-authored by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, would allow states to keep the ACA or substitute an alternative with fewer federal requirements.

Under that approach, insurance plans in states that pick the alternative would not be required to cover maternity and newborn care. However, plans in all states would have to cover the ACA's preventive benefits, including birth control. Collins staff said the draft bill is a starting point.

With sentiments beginning to switch from optimism to uneasiness about the possibility of a hasty repeal without a comprehensive replacement plan would leave about 20 million Americans uninsured, Ryan told “Fox & Friends” on Thursday that a repair would be the same thing as a replacement.

“There’s a miscommunication going on,” he said. “If we’re going to repair the U.S. healthcare system ... you must repeal and replace Obamacare.”

Further discord among Republicans began to show up later after Hatch told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that he wanted a quick repeal of the law – something that Alexander has guided against.

“I believe that we need to repeal Obamacare immediately, and provide for a stable transition period,” Hatch said. “In my view, we need to advance replacement policies in tandem with the repeal process. And then we can keep working on the other parts of the system.”

Hatch has also said in the past that Congress can only go so quick to repeal the bill.

Hatch and Alexander’s miscommunication on repairing and replacing have echoed through the House as well, raising alarms among Republicans who see “repairing” as a betrayal of Trump’s feverish campaign promises.

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., called Obamacare unrepairable at the House Freedom Caucus.

“We need to repeal it. We need to replace it. If you want to call that a repair, so be it, but I don’t know that that makes it any more palatable to the folks back home.”

While Congress deals with the confusion over repairing or replacing, the Trump administration is working on a rule change that would allow health insurers to keep the law’s marketplaces online while the new health policy is being hashed out.

However, the move could reportedly further restrict Americans’ ability to sign up for Obamacare insurance outside the open-enrollment periods.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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