Democrats, Republicans spar over ACA exchange bills

A House subcommittee took a closer look Thursday at a group of bills that are designed to incrementally replace elements of the Affordable Care Act as Republican leaders gear up to repeal the healthcare law.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Health was divided on clear partisan lines for much of the discussion on the four bills, which lawmakers revealed last week.

The four bills seek to preserve bans on insurers denying coverage to people with preexisting conditions, alter the ACA’s rate-banding rule from 3:1 to 5:1, change the ACA’s grace period for receiving premium tax credits and adjust how enrollees are screened for eligibility during special enrollment periods.

Democrats present at the hearing called the efficacy of those provisions into question, especially with significant parts of the ACA set to be rolled back as part of the budget reconciliation process. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., called the proposals “half-written” and “half-baked” and called for congressional Republicans to work on bipartisan solutions to repair deficiencies the healthcare law.

“No one has a problem making improvements to the ACA,” said Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J. “You’re not seeking to make improvements. You’re seeking to repeal it without saying how you’ll replace it.”

RELATED: Congress must act by March to stabilize individual markets, experts say during Senate hearing

Republicans have tried to reframe their approach to repealing the law as “repairing” it, according to an article from Bloomberg. Lawmakers determined that such wording better reflects what the public wants from healthcare reform and is less inflammatory to people who fear that they could lose insurance coverage under a repeal.

However, despite the branding efforts, Republicans at the hearing didn’t mince words on the ACA. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee, who introduced the bill to maintain coverage for those with preexisting conditions, said Democrats were willing to look the other way as individual insurance markets collapsed. “[The ACA is] not working. It’s left a lot of wreckage around, and we’re here to clean it up,” Walden said. “If you want to just walk away and let it collapse, a pox on your side.”

The stability of the individual markets has been a key concern for critics of the ACA, and Republicans at the hearing argued that the four bills on the table and House Speaker Paul Ryan's ACA replacement framework, “A Better Way," will stabilize those markets.

Another point of contention at the hearing: the ACA’s individual mandate, which the Trump administration has signaled it may cease enforcing. Rep. Susan Brooks, R-Ind., said the GOP plans to provide consumers with “freedom” from the mandate’s restrictions.

A video of the full hearing is embedded below: