ACA Deathwatch – UPDATE on budgetary block

UPDATE – There’s some confusion about what the pending vote to defund ACA will mean

  • defunding essentially repeals a big chunk of ACA by ending funding for key components
  • “repeal” will NOT go into effect for at least 2, and perhaps 4 years.
  • there is NO replacement legislation ready to go – don’t expect to see legislation for months

As reported last week, public and private sources indicate the new Congress will start the push to defund ACA as early as this week as part of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 budget.  The Federal government has been funded under continuing resolutions, with the latest set to expire in late April.  The FY runs from October 1 to September 30.

Here’s how this would work. (caveat – as noted last week, this is way more complicated than one might think, and there is NO consensus within the GOP on how to handle critical “details”)

House passes new rules next week that will allow it to defund ACA.  There’s some complex stuff involved here which may well make this a difficult and protracted process.

Late in January the House and Senate will work on a bill to repeal much of ACA – including:

  • eliminating premium support and cost-sharing subsidies (helping lower-income people buy insurance and pay deductibles and copays)
  • ending Medicaid expansion
  • eliminating ACA taxes (medical device, surcharge on very high incomes, etc)
  • increasing Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement

This is where things may well fall apart.  A key problem is a repeal will increase the Federal deficit, a major issue for many Republicans.  Also, there’s a real fear among some Republicans that changing ACA will cause major market disruption – and Republicans will own that.  That’s why the GOP will delay implementing the “repeal” for several years.

I spoke with friend and colleague Bob Laszewski on this – here’s his take:

they will vote budget instructions early Jan. Some may claim that is the vote to repeal but it’s just a procedural vote with budget instructions for the committees with jurisdiction—Senate HELP and Finance. Then HELP and Finance pass a 2016 budget with ACA defunded. The House is the easy part but they will have to reconcile any differences in the 2016 budget with Senate. Then both houses pass the final. Then Trump signs that. The timeline is about 6 weeks from reconvening to actually defunding.

Here’s where it gets really messy.  Laszewski:

they [the GOP] only have 50%+1 for defund (repeal). They have no consensus for anything thereafter. Some have talked about don’t defund unless they have the replace deal in place.

Replace will take 60 in the Senate. They have 52 seats. They don’t have 52 Senate votes or even a simple majority in the House for any replacement plan right now—or likely anytime soon.

I think we are headed to one hell of a “cliff” as time ticks down on the two or three year extension of the current system.

The summer and fall of 2017 will be frantic to get a deal of some sort. Odds are not great with a few on the right in the Republican Party, and the Dems closing ranks [and] not motivated to cooperate.

Key issues:

  1. don’t buy into press reports sure to come next week that will describe these preliminary rule-change steps as a “repeal”.  ACA repeal will take 60 votes in the Senate, and that is NOT going to happen anytime soon.
  2. IF a defunding bill is rammed thru via reconciliation and signed it will happen quickly. But there are major issues with that – market disruption and voter backlash the two most critical.

What does this mean?

Opposing an administration is easy and has no risk; actually passing legislation that will directly affect people and business is hard and very risky.

Oh, and there’s this…

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