GOP tout plans - with few details - to help people if court voids health law subsidies

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WASHINGTON — Congressional Republicans sent a message Monday that they hope the Supreme Court and voters will hear: They have ideas to keep the country's health care system from crumbling if the justices obliterate a bedrock feature of President Barack Obama's heath care law.

The plans — one set from three GOP House chairmen, another from three top Republican senators — were far from legislative proposals, lacked detail and left many unanswered questions. They were released in the run-up to Wednesday's oral arguments before the Supreme Court in a case in which Republicans and conservatives are challenging federal subsidies that help millions of Americans afford health coverage under Obama's 2010 law.

In an opinion article scheduled for Tuesday's Wall Street Journal, the House chairmen said they were working on a proposal that would let states abandon crucial requirements imposed by Obama's statute.

That included dropping that law's mandates that many employers provide insurance for workers and that many individuals purchase coverage or face fines. Obama and his Democratic supporters have argued that without those requirements, many would wait until they were sick to buy policies, fewer people would be covered and the nation's health insurance market would be destabilized.

Insurers would be allowed sell policies across state lines and medical lawsuits would be curbed under the House chairmen's idea. They would keep some of the law's popular protections, such as letting parents keep their children covered until age 26 and barring lifetime limits on coverage. And they would offer tax credits to help people buy policies, with larger credits for older people.

"Here's the bottom line: Under ObamaCare, government controls your choices. Under our proposal, you will," wrote the authors: House Education and Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline, R-Minn., House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

In a separate opinion article in Monday's Washington Post, three top senators said if the court invalidates the subsidies, they have a plan to protect recipients and create "better" insurance markets by giving states more leeway to decide what insurers must cover.

But like the House plan, the proposal described by GOP Sens. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, John Barrasso of Wyoming and Orrin Hatch of Utah said nothing about how much assistance they would provide, its duration or how they would pay for it.

They also did not describe how they would push such a package through Congress with Republicans split about how to respond to such a court ruling and so divided that even a must-pass bill financing the Homeland Security Department has bogged down. Or how they would get Obama to sign any weakening of his law, which Republicans opposed unanimously and have vowed repeatedly to repeal.

"First and most important: We would provide financial assistance to help Americans keep the coverage they picked for a transitional period," the senators wrote.

Plaintiffs in the case claim that tax credits for people who buy health coverage from a federally run insurance marketplace in 37 states are not legal. Most of those states are GOP-run and represented in Congress by Republicans.

The only credits Obama's law allows are for people in the 13 states running their own marketplaces, the plaintiffs say.

The Obama administration and Democrats say the law was always intended to provide subsidies in all the states. A court decision is expected in June.

Democrats criticized the GOP ideas.

"It's appalling that Republicans are once again putting politics first and rooting for a ruling that would take away coverage and raise health care costs for millions of people," said Washington Sen. Patty Murray, top Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Underscoring the case's significance, lawmakers from both sides planned to attend Wednesday's court arguments.

Republicans set to watch included Alexander, Barrasso and Upton. Also ready to attend were Murray, Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, lead Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee and Michigan Rep. Sander Levin, top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee.

In their column, the three senators call the case "an opportunity" to reshape the law and say they "have a plan to protect these people and create a bridge away from" the statute.

Democrats say the law has forced insurers to cover more benefits and cite figures showing a big reduction in the number of uninsured Americans.

Alexander chairs the Senate Health committee, Hatch heads the Senate Finance Committee and Barrasso is in the Senate Republican leadership.

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