Leading conservative Republicans from the House and Senate say Congress is moving too slowly on efforts to "repeal and replace" the Affordable Care Act. But their potential resistance to compromise — even with other members of their own party — underscores just how hard a task Republicans have set for themselves.
"We think it's time to do something, and that's to get rid of this law," Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, told reporters at an event sponsored by the conservative Heritage Foundation. "The biggest problem with waiting is that's not what we told the voters."
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, one of the leading conservative voices in that chamber, said he will vigorously oppose efforts for Republicans to wait until they have a plan ready to replace the law before they repeal it. "There is a lot less agreement about what comes next," he said. "If we load down the repeal bill with what comes next, it's harder to get both of them passed."
After getting off to a quick start, GOP efforts to dismantle the health law appear to have slowed considerably. House and Senate committees have already missed a deadline of Jan. 27 to write and pass their proposed repeal and replace provisions, although Senate leaders acknowledged early this year that marker would likely not be met. At a party retreat last month, Republicans still seemed uncertain exactly how and when they would proceed.
And in an interview that aired just before the Super Bowl, President Donald Trump for the first time acknowledged that the effort to remake the health law could last into next year.
Conservatives, however, are pushing back.
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., who heads the hard-right House Freedom Caucus, said he recognizes that people are "anxious" about changing the health law. "The quicker we can give them answers, the better off we are," he said.
"Health care gets better and costs less once you repeal Obamacare," said Jordan.
All three said they are sensitive to the needs of health insurers, who are threatening to stop offering coverage in the individual market after this year unless they get a better idea of what rules they will have to follow.
"Every month that goes by we create a heavier burden for insurance companies to figure out," said Meadows.
They insisted that adds imperative to the repeal push.
At a minimum, said Lee, Congress should immediately pass the bill it passed in 2015 that was vetoed by President Barack Obama. That partial repeal would have eliminated the expansion of the Medicaid program for the poor, as well as all the insurance subsidies that help people afford coverage and the taxes that pay for the program.
"If we can get something more aggressive, then great," he said. "But we cannot make progress until we first repeal Obamacare."
Insurers and others, including the Congressional Budget Office, have said that repealing parts of the law without a replacement could plunge the individual insurance market into chaos and increase the number of people without any insurance by 32 million over 10 years.
But the conservatives rejected that characterization. "The chaos the American people are facing right now is related to a set of circumstances put in place by Obamacare," said Lee. "I wish there were a non-chaotic path" to fix it.
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This story was contributed by Kaiser Health News, a national health policy news service that is part of the nonpartisan Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation a nonprofit, nonpartisan health policy research and communication organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.