Obamacare Repeal Clears Committee Though Cost And Impact Is Unknown

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Above Photo: House Ways and Means Committee members Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., left, and Rep. David Schweikert, R-Ariz., right, talk on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March 8, 2017, as the committee began a markup of the long-awaited plan by Republicans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. At rear are Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Ohio and Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., right. J. Scott Applewhite AP

WASHINGTON After more than 17 hours of deliberations, the House Ways and Means Committee approved the Republican bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act early Thursday morning even though the Congressional Budget Office hasn’t determined what the legislation will cost or how many people it will cause to lose health coverage.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee is in the midst of a similar marathon session. They’re expected to approve the GOP bill on Thursday, setting the stage for the House Budget Committee to finalize the legislation next week.

Republicans hope to move the bill to a full House vote in the coming weeks, although its fate is unclear due to opposition to the measure from conservative lawmakers in the House Freedom Caucus.

“This legislation reflects President Trump’s strong commitment to improving health care for all Americans,” said a statement from Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas. “I sincerely thank my colleagues for their hard work and commitment to delivering on the president’s promise.”

But Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., said the bill is a tax giveaway for the wealthy and big corporations.

“This is a misguided and reckless policy that will hurt our job market, reduce access to healthcare, and make Americans pay more for less,” Thompson said in a statement.

The Ways and Means Committee rejected every Democratic amendment to delay their markup until the Congressional Budget Office could provide a cost estimate.

Other Democratic efforts to insert more than a dozen consumer protections into the legislation were also rejected.

And despite concerns that the bill provides $600 billion in tax breaks that will disproportionately benefit upper-income individuals, the first amendment approved by the Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday provided a tax break for insurance companies that would cost taxpayers $400 million over ten years, according to testimony from Thomas Barthold, staff director of the Joint Committee on Taxation.

The amendment lifts a $500,000 limit on the amount of insurance executive compensation that can be excluded from taxation.

Rep. Brian Higgins, D-N.Y., called the proposal “morally reprehensible.”

Rep. Joe Crowley, D-N.Y., was also indignant about the measure, saying sarcastically that insurance executives with multi-million dollar salaries “need a tax break – at the expense of everyday hardworking Americans who are trying to make ends meet.”

Crowley and other Democrats had delayed action on the amendment for most of the day by offering more than a dozen proposals that were either voted down or blocked.

Rep. Dave Schweikert, R-Ariz., defended the proposal, saying the high salaries are already reflected in insurance premium costs. He reasoned that making more of that compensation exempt from taxation allows insurers to lower premiums.

The committee adopted another amendment that would repeal a tax on tanning salons that provides $600 million over ten years.

The committee also approved amendments to repeal the Affordable Care Act’s prescription drug medication tax, its health insurance tax and a net investment tax – all of which funded expanded coverage under Medicaid and tax credits to help people buy marketplace insurance.

Although the Congressional Budget Office hasn’t scored the Republican plan, the Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that repealing the ACA’s taxes will cost roughly $600 billion through 2026 and nearly $700 billion through 2027.

More than half of the tax-cut benefits would flow to people earning more than $1 million a year. They would see average tax cuts of $57,570 a year in 2025, according to estimates by the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center.

An earlier version of this story misstated the cost to taxpayers of a tax break for insurance companies, as described by Thomas Barthold, staff director of the Joint Committee on Taxation. It is $400 million over 10 years, not $400 billion.