Former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott said he'd encourage his fellow Republicans to pass a technical fix to the healthcare reform law to address the issue of whether people who buy coverage in states using the federal insurance exchange can continue to receive premium subsidies.
Without a fix, there is a possibility that the U.S. Supreme Court will rule next year that the language of the law does not allow federal tax credits for premiums in 34 states, which likely would severely disrupt coverage expansion and insurance reform in those states.
Lott said that when he was in office such technical corrections on major legislation were standard. “Almost always on a major bill, we'd have technical corrections almost immediately,” Lott said at a breakfast Thursday hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.
When asked if he thinks Republicans should make a change to eliminate the ambiguity surrounding insurance premium subsidies, he said, “I would think they should work at that.”
Lott, now a senior adviser at the lobbying firm Squire Patton Boggs, said he'd encourage Republicans to work on a technical fix. “One of the things I'm looking for, who would be the leader in the House or the Senate, Republican or even Democrat, that would try to find a way to do some improvement without, you know, demolishing the bill,” Lott said. “Is Paul Ryan going to step up and do that? How will Orrin Hatch and Ron Wyden work together?”
It's not clear from Lott's comments whether he'd like to see a fix to allow Americans in all states to continue to receive the subsidies or to disallow that, though some observers interpreted his remarks to mean continuing the subsidies. Lott could not be reached for comment Friday.
Lott appeared at the breakfast with former Democratic Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. He discussed a possible bipartisan deal in Congress to change the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that would include clarifying the subsidy language and repealing the medical device tax.
Lott's comments come about a month after the Supreme Court agreed to hear King v. Burwell, a case that centers on the question of whether the language of the ACA allows premium subsidies to Americans in all states or just those that have established their own insurance exchanges.
One part of the law says the tax credits are only available to Americans who enrolled “through an exchange established by the state,” which Republicans argue means that Americans in states relying on the federal exchange shouldn't have access to those credits. The Obama administration, however, argues that the law's clear intention was to offer subsidies to expand coverage to Americans in every state, and that other sections of the law indicate that subsidies are available to those served by the federal exchange.
Earlier this week, Mitch McConnell, the presumptive Senate majority leader in the upcoming Congress, said the new Republican-controlled Senate might address issues with the law such as “the elimination of the 40-hour workweek, the individual mandate, the medical-device tax, the health insurance tax.”
But McConnell said the law's fate might rest with the Supreme Court. “Who may ultimately take it down is the Supreme Court of the United States,” McConnell said. “If that were to be the case, I would assume that you could have a mulligan here, a major do-over of the whole thing, that opportunity presented to us by the Supreme Court, as opposed to actually getting the president to sign a full repeal, which is not likely to happen.”
In his comments Thursday, Lott said he doesn't see how Republicans can avoid trying to make some changes to the law given the results of the recent midterm elections.
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