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Senate health-care plan would halt Obamacare penalties, taxes

Top Senate Republicans prepared Wednesday to release their plan for dismantling President Barack Obama’s health care law, a proposal that would cut and revamp Medicaid, end penalties on people not buying coverage and eliminate tax increases that financed the statute’s expansion of coverage, lobbyists and congressional aides said.

Departing from the House-approved version of the legislation — which President Donald Trump privately called “mean” last week — the Senate plan would drop the House bill’s waivers allowing states to let insurers boost premiums on some people with pre-existing conditions.

It would also largely retain the subsidies Obama provided to help millions buy insurance, which are pegged mostly to people’s incomes and the premiums they pay. The House-approved tax credits were tied to people’s ages, a change that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said would boost out-of-pocket costs to many lower earners.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell planned to release the measure Thursday morning and hopes to push it through the Senate next week. Some of its provisions were described by people on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it publicly.

[READ MORE: Senate Democrats take a stand as GOP readies secret health care bill]

“We believe we can do better than the Obamacare status quo, and we fully intend to do so,” said McConnell, R-Ky.

McConnell was unveiling his plan even as GOP senators from across the party’s political spectrum complained about the package and the secretive, behind-closed-doors meetings he used to draft a measure reshaping the country’s medical system, which comprises one-sixth of the U.S. economy.

Facing unanimous Democratic opposition, Republicans can suffer defections by no more than two of their 52 senators and still push the measure through the Senate. Enough have voiced concerns to make clear that McConnell and other leaders have work to do before passage is assured.

Scrapping Obama’s 2010 statute is one of Trump’s and the GOP’s top priorities, but internal divisions have slowed its progress through the Republican-controlled Congress. Democrats say GOP characterizations of Obama’s law as failing are wrong, and say the Republican effort would boot millions off coverage and leave others facing higher out-of-pocket costs.

The sources said that, in some instances, the documents McConnell planned to release might suggest optional approaches for issues that remain in dispute among Republicans.

That could include the number of years the bill would take to phase out the extra money Obama provided to expand the federal-state Medicaid program for the poor and disabled to millions of additional low earners.

McConnell and the House-passed bill would halt the extra funds for new beneficiaries in three years, but Republicans from states that expanded Medicaid like Rob Portman, R-Ohio, want to extend that to seven years.

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