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Republican leaders said Tuesday the Senate's tax package would repeal the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate, potentially allowing the party to cut back on the cost of what will likely be an expensive series of reforms.
“We're optimistic that inserting individual mandate repeal would be helpful,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said, according to CNBC.
McConnell leads a chamber narrowly divided on how to proceed with the Obama-era health law that many in the party would like to see repealed. Removing the individual mandate would represent Republicans' latest attempt to undue the ACA after failing multiple times since President Donald Trump took office.
According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), repealing the individual mandate would lower the deficit by $338 million people and allow non-group insurance markets to remain stable. While the $338 million cost-savings might help Republicans sell the bill to colleagues wary of its cost, it's almost certain to intensify opposition from congressional Democrats who argued the bill hurts the middle class at the expense of wealthy Americans.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer reportedly portrayed the new provision as a form of suicide. “Thelma and Louise are warming up the car,” Schumer said in reference to a movie about two women who drive off a cliff.
“They're cutting taxes on the wealthy and taking health care from millions and raising premiums on millions of others all to reduce taxes on the rich,” Schumer also said.
Analysts have feared that removing the individual mandate would remove healthy people from insurance pools and make it more difficult for insurance companies to provide low-cost coverage to less healthy individuals. The CBO appeared to corroborate that fear when it said, as part of its estimate, that repealing the mandate would result in a 10 percent premium hike.
Republicans who welcomed the repeal, however, harped on the burden the individual mandate placed on ordinary Americans.
“Repealing the mandate pays for more tax cuts for working families and protects them from being fined by the IRS for not being able to afford insurance that Obamacare made unaffordable in the first place,” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said.
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) similarly described the mandate as a “tax on poor Americans.”
The House's proposal for tax reform, the CBO estimated, would raise the deficit by $1.7 trillion and potentially trigger a $25 billion cut to Medicare.