WASHINGTON — Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski signed onto an amendment that would delay Republican plans to repeal major parts of the Affordable Care Act while lawmakers haggle over a replacement option.
It is unclear so far, however, whether the amendment — offered by Murkowski and four others, led by Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio — will gain traction with the Republican leadership. This week, the Senate is expected to complete passage of budget reconciliation, the tool with which Republicans plan to repeal many aspects of the Affordable Care Act.
Concerns have arisen that repealing parts of the law without a clear plan to replace it could undermine the insurance market. Lawmakers have been focused on swiftly canceling the law's mandate that citizens have health insurance, which spreads risk broadly among the population, and the taxes that pay for the law's other requirements.
For many in Congress, the focus has shifted away from repealing the law entirely and toward managing the ever-rising costs of insurance premiums. The costs of insurance on the exchange in Alaska, for the minority who do not qualify for government subsidy, is among the highest in the country.
But about 79 percent of Alaskans buying insurance on the exchange receive subsidies. Without them, about 16,000 Alaskans would see monthly premiums more than 500 percent higher.
"I remain committed to repealing the Affordable Care Act, and I am equally committed to ensuring that all Alaskans and Americans, especially the most vulnerable among us and those in rural communities, have access to affordable, quality health care," Murkowski said in a statement after Portman introduced the amendment.
"With a new administration and a new Congress we have an opportunity to fulfill both of those commitments, but repeal and replace need to coincide — that's simply common sense. That is why I'm proud to sign onto this amendment to give the committee process time to work, to allow stakeholders to share their solutions with us, and to ensure that our replacement legislation provides Americans with certainty, access, and truly affordable options for their health-care needs," Murkowski said.
As currently written, the 2017 budget resolution requires legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act by Jan. 27 and reduce the budget deficit by at least $1 billion per year for the next decade.
The amendment Murkowski joined Monday night would extend until March 3 the deadline for committees to produce the repeal legislation. Murkowski and Portman were joined by Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Bill Cassidy, R-La.
It would also give incoming Health and Human Services secretary nominee Rep. Tom Price, R-Georgia, time to outline his priorities and "fully review the tools currently at his disposal," Corker said.
"In an ideal situation, we would repeal and replace Obamacare simultaneously, but we need to make sure that we have at least a detailed framework that tells the American people what direction we're headed," Collins said. She said her "number one concern is that we not create a gap in coverage for individuals who are currently insured and who rely on that coverage."