Republican leaders reiterated their previously floated plan of repealing the Affordable Care Act first and replacing it in a piecemeal fashion.
"What we intend to do by repealing Obamacare is start to repair the damage that's been done to families and business as a result of this being enacted," said Sen. John Thune (R-SD), a member of the GOP leadership team. "And then after we have done that, we will go about the process of replacing in a step by step way the Obamacare provisions that we think have caused the most damage and put in place reforms that we think could really work."
GOP lawmakers have coalesced around the idea of repealing Obamacare through the process known as reconciliation—which they attempted in a 2015 bill that was ultimately vetoed by President Obama— but with a delay for most of the repeal provisions of two or three years to give Congress time to settle on an alternative. Health care policy experts, including some conservatives, have warned that even with a delay, repealing Obamacare without a replacement could prompt insurers to flee the ACA exchanges, risking a market collapse. Republicans will also likely need the votes of some Democrats to pass Obamacare alternative legislation, since it likely won't meet the requirements of reconciliation. The reconciliation process only requires a bare majority vote in the Senate but it is limited to legislation related to the budget.
"I'm hopeful that we will have both Democrats and Republicans, our colleagues in the House and here in the Senate, and the President-elect and his team working together in a way that moves us in a better direction," Thune said.
The leaders' remarks came after a lunch where Vice President-elect Mike Pence was in attendance. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), another member of the Senate leadership team, pointed to President-elect Donald Trump's pick for Health and Human Services Secretary Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) —who has authored Obamacare replacement plans in the past — when discussing their plans for an alternative.
Blunt called Price "the best person you can find to lead that discussion from the administration's point of view."
In the six-plus years since Obamacare was passed, however, Republicans have failed to come to a consensus on what their ACA replacement would look like. Blunt, nonetheless, pushed back on the claim that they didn't have any replacement ideas, while suggesting the discussion over the Obamacare alternative could still take some time.
"I don't think there will be a 1,500 page replacement for this 2,700 page failure, but debating individual things, reaching a consensus, reaching across the aisle for that consensus to develop," Blunt said.