WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama derided as “reckless” on Friday a Republican plan to repeal his health care law now and replace it later, predicting that the replacement may never come.
In an opinion piece in the New England Journal of Medicine, Obama sought to dispel the notion that Republicans could fulfill their campaign promises to gut the Affordable Care Act immediately without risking devastating consequences for consumers. Calling that approach “irresponsible,” Obama urged Republicans to do the work now to develop an alternative.
“Given that Republicans have yet to craft a replacement plan, and that unforeseen events might overtake their planned agenda, there might never be a second vote on a plan to replace the ACA if it is repealed,” Obama wrote. “And if a second vote does not happen, tens of millions of Americans will be harmed.”
In his final days in office, Obama has been ramping up a public push to pressure Republicans over their plans to undermine “Obamacare,” his signature legislative achievement. He traveled Wednesday to Capitol Hill to strategize with Democratic lawmakers, and on Friday he will answer questions on health care during a live-streamed interview at Blair House, the government guest house across from the White House.
Although Democrats are largely resigned to the likelihood the GOP will succeed in repealing the law, they are seeking to exploit divisions among Republicans who for years have been unable to unite behind an alternative.
President-elect Donald Trump’s team has said repeal is the first order of business, and leaders in Congress hope to deliver a bill voiding much of the law to Trump by late February. Yet with no replacement ready to go, they’ve been discussing a repeal that wouldn’t take effect for 18 months or longer, giving them time to devise a new plan.
Although House Speaker Paul Ryan said this week that lawmakers will vote on a replacement this year as well, it’s unclear how Republicans could move that quickly to replace a law that took more than a year to craft — especially given GOP disagreements about how to pay for popular parts of the law they hope to preserve.
But Obama said the uncertainty of a repeal with no replacement could lead insurance companies to bail on the health care marketplaces during the phase-out years, leaving millions without insurance. He said it would set up a “cliff” with harmful consequences if lawmakers fail to approve a replacement in time.