McConnell cautions replacement to health law to take time

The next Congress will begin work immediately next year toward repealing President Barack Obama’s health care law but delay the changes as Republicans try to come up with an alternative, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Saturday.

The Kentucky Republican insisted that some 20 million Americans who have health care through the six-year-old law will not lose coverage, though the likely upheaval in the insurance industry suggests many could.

Asked about the Senate’s timetable to scrap the law, McConnell said: “We’re going to move to it after we go back in the first week in January.”

But during a speech in his hometown of Louisville, the senator cautioned patience from the law’s critics as Republicans create an alternative.

“You can’t just snap your fingers and go from where we are today to where we’re headed,” McConnell told a crowd at the Kentucky Farm Bureau’s annual meeting. “This has to be done carefully. It has to be done in a phased-in way over a period of time.”

Republicans have been unable to agree on an alternative since the law’s enactment in 2010, but now must produce a replacement if they scrap the law. President-elect Donald Trump says he would like to keep major elements of the law — allowing children to remain on their parents’ plans until age 26 and ensuring companies don’t deny coverage for pre-existing conditions. But it’s unclear how a new version of the law could force insurance companies to provide the latter coverage.

With open enrollment underway, no changes are expected next year for the more than 10 million people currently covered through and state markets that offer subsidized private insurance. An additional estimated 9 million low-income people covered by Medicaid in states that expanded the program are also protected for now.

McConnell said Saturday that Republicans have an obligation to repeal and replace a law he called a “monstrosity.” He blamed the law for rising co-payments, deductibles and premiums and said it caused “chaos” in the private health insurance market.

“We have an obligation to the American people to straighten this out,” he said. But he said replacing the law will be challenging “given the fact that it’s been kicking in for six years.”

Meanwhile, McConnell played down prospects for any new trade deals. Specifically, he said the Trans-Pacific Partnership won’t pass Congress because “politically it’s unsustainable.” Trump’s tough talk on trade has included a threat to pull the United States out of the trade deal.

“As a practical matter, we will not be doing any trade agreements anytime soon,” said McConnell, a trade proponent.

On other subjects, McConnell:

—Said he hopes Trump takes quick action once in office to roll back Obama administration regulations that he said slowed economic growth.

“We’ve been working with the transition team on all the things he can begin on his own to produce relief on,” McConnell said. “Some will take longer than others. But we intend to begin to dismantle this regulatory nightmare that’s … kept us from reaching our potential.”

—Attributed increased Republican dominance in rural America to the unpopularity of Obama and his policies.

McConnell called last month’s election a comeback for rural areas as the GOP retained control of Congress and won back the White House.

“All across rural America, there’s a sea of red because our friends on the other side have become an urban-oriented party,” he said.