WASHINGTON – House Republican leaders are adopting an agreed-upon conservative approach to fixing the nation's health care system, in part to draw an election-year contrast with President Obama's Affordable Care Act.
The plan includes an expansion of high-risk insurance pools, promotion of health savings accounts and inducements for small businesses to purchase coverage together.
The tenets of the plan — which could expand to include the ability to purchase insurance across state lines, guaranteed renewability of policies and changes to medical-malpractice regulations — are ideas that various conservatives have for a long time backed as part of broader bills.
But this is the first time this year that House leaders will put their full force behind a single set of principles from those bills and present it as their vision. This month, House leaders will begin to share a memo with members outlining the plan, called "A Stronger Health Care System: The GOP Plan for Freedom, Flexibility, & Peace of Mind," with suggestions on how Republicans should talk about it to their constituents.
"We've got to get to where you can compare the two perspectives, Republican and Democrat," House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said in an interview.
Republicans have campaigned heavily on their opposition to the health care law in this year's congressional elections, betting that anger with the law will propel them to gain seats in the House and take control of the Senate. Those efforts accelerated last week after Republican David Jolly's upset victory in a special House election in Florida in which the campaigns focused on the law.
'Giving people a choice'
In meetings with Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, last week, House leadership allies cast Florida as a sign of good things to come in November. But they also cautioned that Republicans needed to offer a clearer alternative.
"It's going to be all about giving people a choice," said Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., an anesthesiologist.
Democrats dismissed the Republican approach as a purely political gesture ahead of this year's midterm elections, saying the focus on long-held conservative ideas was more of an attempt to rally Republicans than to find bipartisan solutions.
"If they are trying to scrap it all, going back to the bad old days, it's not going to go anywhere," said Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va.
A CNN-ORC International survey released Tuesday showed support for the Affordable Care Act ticking up slightly, with 39 percent of Americans saying they support the health care law, up from 35 percent in December. Fifty-seven percent of those polled oppose the law, down from 62 percent in December.
The Republicans' plan is hardly intended as a full replacement of the federal health care law — and that is by design. They would prefer to see a shift away from the federal government and to the states, with an emphasis on getting more consumers on private plans.