A leading House Republican claimed Thursday that he's been told of a 100-page document showing the Obama administration is preparing contingency plans in case the Supreme Court invalidates federal subsidies that help millions of Americans afford healthcare coverage.
At a hearing of a House health subcommittee that he chairs, Rep. Joseph Pitts, R-Pa., said he had learned of the paper's existence from "a source" in the Health and Human Services Department. He told a reporter later that he's not seen the paper but has been told it is being circulated to high-level employees of the agency.
At Thursday's hearing, HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell repeatedly expressed ignorance of such a document.
If such a paper exists, it would be important because administration officials have repeatedly sidestepped questions about whether they are planning for a possible loss in a court case that could obliterate the subsidies, a key element of President Barack Obama's 2010 healthcare overhaul.
The administration's non-response has added to political pressures on GOP lawmakers, who unanimously opposed the law when it was enacted in 2010 and have vowed many times to repeal and replace it. With Republicans supporting the lawsuit that could dismantle part of the law, many of them believe they must propose ways to help the millions of voters who could suddenly find their healthcare unaffordable because of a court ruling.
If an administration planning document exists, "It would be an opportunity for us to negotiate a possible compromise" with the administration, Pitts told a reporter.
As she has said before, Burwell said Thursday that the administration believes it will win the case. She also reiterated that there are no actions the administration could take to address the larger numbers of uninsured people and higher healthcare costs that would result should it lose the case.
"That's why you're not hearing plans" from the administration, Burwell said. "Because we don't have the authority."
Justices are to hear oral arguments next week in a case in which conservatives and Republicans claim the government is improperly enforcing the healthcare law.
They say the law only allows federal subsidies to people buying health coverage on marketplaces run by the states. But the government is also paying subsidies to millions of people who buy coverage in the 37 states that use the federal HealthCare.gov marketplace.