Former House Speaker John Boehner said Thursday that he didn't think the Republican-controlled Congress would be able to completely repeal and replace Obamacare, and that some key provisions of the health care law would likely remain.
Speaking at a health care conference in Orlando, Florida, Boehner, an Ohio Republican who opposed Obamacare but resigned in 2015 after clashes with conservatives, said the GOP will run up against a fundamental rule of Washington policy making: If you break it, you own it.
Boehner also said Obamacare was made more likely to survive in some form due to the sheer difficulty of getting lawmakers to rally behind an alternative version.
"In the 25 years I served in the United States Congress, Republicans never, ever, one time, agreed on what a healthcare proposal should look like. Not once," Boehner said during a panel conversation with former Democratic Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society forum.
"They’ll fix Obamacare. I shouldn’t call it repeal and replace because that’s not what’s going to happen. They’re basically going to fix the flaws and put a more conservative box around it."
Boehner also said some popular elements of the law are now likely irreversible, particularly provisions that allow parents to keep their children on their policies until they are 26, and protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions.
The best way forward, Boehner said, was to pass a law that repealed elements of the law and replaced them with alternatives at the same time:
"And all this happy talk that went on in November and December and January about, 'Repeal, repeal, repeal, yeah, we’ll do replace, replace,' I start laughing. Because if you pass repeal without replace, first, anything that happens is your fault. You broke it. And secondly, as I told some of the Republican leaders when they asked, I said, 'If you pass repeal without replace, you’ll never pass replace, because they will never, ever agree on what the bill should be.' Perfect always becomes the enemy of the good. And so we’ve got to marry them together. That’s the only chance was have to get it done. That’s why it’s taking a lot longer than people anticipated."
President Donald Trump, who ran on repealing and replacing Obamacare, has already said that he would consider keeping some Obamacare provisions, and has tried to calm insurance companies about Republican indecision on a way forward.
Boehner in the past has acknowledged that some parts of Obamacare were worth keeping. He told CNBC just after Trump won election that "while a lot of it's bad, it's not all bad as President-elect Trump has pointed out."
Concerns about changes to the law have driven many people to protest Republican lawmakers who've returned to their home districts this week during a Congressional recess.