Some of the most conservative members of the House of Representatives are now suggesting they would entertain the idea of temporarily extending federal Obamacare subsidies if the Supreme Court invalidates them.
Rep. John Fleming (R-LA), above, told the Hill that he and other members of the House’s Freedom Caucus debated the Senate GOP plan to extend the federal subsidies into 2017, when, they hope, there would be a Republican president in the White House to repeal Obamacare.
“I think that I could only support it if it had a definite expiration at the end of 2016, or maybe in the first half of 2017,” Fleming said.
So far, Republicans have struggled to coalesce around a single solution to a potential ruling from the Supreme Court that could eliminate the subsidies for the millions of Americans living in states with federally-run health insurance exchanges. Challengers in the case, King v. Burwell, say the subsidies are invalid because a phrase in the statute that says federal credits are available to those participating exchanges “established by the State.”
A proposal to extend the subsidies on the condition of nixing the mandates has gained traction among Senate Republicans, with 31 Republicans including leadership supporting Sen. Ron Johnson’s (R-WI) legislation.
According to the Hill report, Fleming’s fellow House conservative Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ) was first wary of such a solution, but warmed up to it given that subsidies would be extended only if Obamacare’s individual and employer mandates were eliminated. Fleming said that he and about three or four House GOP members have formed a working group to work on their own plan to counter a small working group led by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), which Fleming said was meeting in “secret.”
From a political standpoint, Republicans are attracted to such an approach because it would give them cover if the subsidies were invalidated — particularly, as many of the the states expected to be hardest hit are represented by Republicans — while also allowing GOP lawmakers to take a swipe at the most unpopular provisions in the law.
From a policy standpoint, however, the solution appears to be largely unworkable, industry experts have said, as the insurance market would fall into chaos if the mandates were eliminated. Nixing the mandates in order to save the subsidies temporarily is believed to be a non-starter among Democratic lawmakers and the White House.
While national Republicans dithered on coming up with a contingency plan, some states — namely Pennsylvania and Delaware — have put into motion their own back-up plans to protect their residents from losing the subsidies in the case that the Supreme Court invalidates them. Lawmakers in other states have stayed mum on the issue, or even pushed legislation barring any sort of solution, driven by Republican distaste for Obamacare.
The Supreme Court ruling in King v. Burwell is expected in late June.