The Obama administration is doubling down on the Affordable Care Act this week, as a U.S. Supreme Court decision that could dismantle the plan looms in the near future.
In a contentious House Committee on Ways and Means, HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said President Barack Obama will not consider any GOP proposals to strike down the law's insurance mandates.
Burwell acknowledged, however, that the administration would rely on Congress for a fix.
Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) pushed Burwell for an answer on what Obama would do in the event of a negative King v. Burwell decision.
Before the end of June, the high court is expected to issue a ruling in the case in which ACA opponents claim that only states with their own exchanges are eligible to receive subsidies. If the court rules against the administration, about 6.4 million Americans in states using the federal exchange would lose subsidies totaling $1.7 billion, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Ryan indicated that if Obama attempted to negotiate with Congress, it would push for the end of the employer and individual mandate as part of the negotiations on whatever fix that would be put in place.
“We're not talking about a fender bender or a flat tire. The whole law's a lemon. Its very linchpin—its central principle is government control,” Ryan said at the hearing.
Burwell said Congress would ultimately take the lead on fixing the law, but indicated that Obama would continue to push for the individual mandate. She says an omission of the mandate would jeopardize the risk pool since plans must take on people with pre-existing conditions.
Burwell said that's why Obama would not sign the Preserving Freedom and Choice in Health Care Act introduced by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) in April.
The bill, considered by many Obamacare opponents as a strong alternative, would extend subsidies until August 2017, but would repeal the individual and employer mandate and strike requirements that insurance plans cover a minimum package of essential health benefits. So far, that bill has only Republican support.
“We look at that legislation as a repeal (of the Affordable Care Act),” Burwell said.
She added that thus far, Congress has yet to present a viable solution to win the president's signature. Burwell also said she believes the most straightforward fix would be a bill that indicated that those living in states without an exchange are indeed eligible for subsidies.
The fact Burwell even acknowledged a chance of a loss at the Supreme Court is notable as she has repeatedly stated the administration was in the right and was following the law as intended.
Obama, at an international summit on Monday and Tuesday at the annual meeting of the Catholic Hospitals Association, which has publicly supported the ACA, has touted the benefits of the healthcare reform law. When addressing reporters on Monday, Obama said the Supreme Court should not have taken up the issue in the first place.