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POLITICS: PennAve

The Republican message on how to fix Obamacare remains muddled

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Politics,Congress,Susan Ferrechio,Obamacare,Health Care,2014 Elections,Campaigns,PennAve,Eric Cantor

Public disapproval of the troubled health care law is on the rise, and people are suddenly paying attention to long-ignored Republican health care proposals that could replace Obamacare.

But the GOP isn't ready for the spotlight.

The party's health insurance reform proposals are numerous and varied, but lawmakers have yet to coalesce around a specific idea or plan.

Republicans have introduced hundreds of bills that address specific aspects of health care reform, including limits on medical malpractice claims, tax incentives for people who buy insurance and high-risk pools for the sick and hard to insure.

A few Republicans in both chambers have authored more comprehensive reform plans, but none have become the party's centerpiece alternative for Obamacare — or even gotten a vote.

The jumbled mix of legislative solutions has led many to conclude that the GOP is simply unable or unwilling to agree on an alternative should the troubled Obamacare ultimately collapse.

"The average voter still hasn't been convinced that there is a coherent Republican message on a health care alternative," Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., told the Washington Examiner.

White House aides said President Obama will help vulnerable Democrats defending Senate and House seats in the November elections by emphasizing that while Republicans have savaged the Affordable Care Act, they have yet to propose a workable alternative.

Democrats have long mocked the GOP over the issue, with Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., infamously asserting on the House floor that the Republican plan for Americans who get sick is to "die quickly."

The new health care law, meanwhile, is rapidly losing public support. The glitch-plagued website has made signing up difficult and those who do enroll are discovering they must pay higher premiums and deductibles for a narrower choice of doctors and hospitals.

"The question for Republicans is, when is a good time to state a position" for replacing the law, said Joseph Antos, an economist with the American Enterprise Institute. "Part of the strategy is waiting for more disaster to occur."

Some GOP strategists believe Republican lawmakers should refrain from offering an alternative because it would give Democrats a target and distract from the cascade of problems the public is encountering under Obamacare

"This thing is going to collapse," said John Feehery, a top aide to former Republican House Speaker Denny Hastert. "Worry about a bipartisan plan to fix it later."

Republican House leaders have no plans to pass legislation that would replace Obamacare. The House voted nearly four dozen times to repeal or alter the health care law, but when asked about a substitute, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said the GOP is waiting to introduce alternatives.

"We'll have to see how these health care exchanges work out," Cantor told the Examiner. "But from the reports I'm getting, there are a lot of hospitals, doctors and providers saying they are not participating. And if it turns out that way, then that is a perfect opportunity for us to say that there is a better way."

Any Republican alternative, Cantor said, would be much more limited in scope than the current law.

"I don't think its necessarily a question of saying you want a 2,000-page law that is going to replace this monstrosity on the books," Cantor said.

Instead, the GOP could introduce legislation that gives patients more choices by allowing them to buy insurance across state lines, something now prohibited.

"Maybe you ought to go back and say, 'Hey, people should have a broader choice of insurance companies,'" Cantor said.

Some House Republicans, however, are pushing for a more comprehensive approach.

The Republican Study Committee, a group of conservative lawmakers, is promoting a 176-page bill to replace the Affordable Care Act with some Republican-favored reforms like limits on malpractice court settlements, high risk pools and expanded options for purchasing health insurance. Half the Republican conference is co-sponsoring the bill, suggesting it could pass with widespread support.

Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., authored another 268-page bill to replace Obamacare. That bill, which has 54 co-sponsors, would provide tax credits to people who purchase health insurance on the individual market. It would also address malpractice lawsuits and allow people to keep their health plans when they switch jobs.

Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Richard Burr, R-N.C., authored the Patient Choice Act, which would provide tax credits for purchasing insurance and would create state-run health insurance exchanges and high-risk insurance pools.

"Republicans probably have too many alternatives," Price, an orthopedic surgeon, told the Examiner. "So the challenge is for all of us to coalesce around one that nearly all of us can embrace. So that means finding common threads in various pieces of legislation and I think we'll do that."

The GOP leadership, Price said, "has to recognize that an alternative is important."

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