Passing the buck, Pa. House urges Congress to ready for ACA repeal

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Protect pre-existing conditions? Let children stay on their parents’ health insurance until age 26?

While Harrisburg has the authority to accomplish all of this, state lawmakers on Monday beseeched their federal colleagues in Washington D.C. to prepare for a possible court ruling against the Affordable Care Act — or “Obamacare.”

The state House unanimously approved a non-binding resolution to “strongly urge the Congress of the United States to retain certain consumer protections” if the Affordable Care Act is ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. 

In an email, Mike Straub, spokesperson for House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, said that there have yet to be votes because “the resolution urges Congress to take action, while the bills you mentioned call on state action, something there isn’t the same level of interest in acting on at this time.”

Passing resolutions asking for federal action, instead of acting on the state level, is common within the General Assembly. 

Sometimes the proposals can only be passed in D.C.. The most recent example was a resolution asking Congress to grant a collective Congressional Gold Medal to U.S. Army Ranger for service in WWII. The House approved it in December.

But passing the buck to Congress on health care didn’t sit well with some Democratic lawmakers, such as Rep. Peter Schweyer, D-Lehigh.

“There’s nothing inherently wrong with the resolution,” Schweyer told the Capital-Star. “I certainly will be voting in favor. However we have the authority to protect people with preexisting conditions right now regardless of what happens with the federal lawsuit, regardless of if a deeply divided Congress has the ability to have a meaningful conversation.”

Schweyer is sponsoring a House bill to put preexisting conditions protection into state law. 

There are other proposals to do the same with additional Obamacare provisions, such as keeping kids on their parents’ insurance until age 26

Both proposals have some bipartisan support, but have yet to receive a vote.

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If Obamacare is overturned. some 21 million people could lose their health insurance coverage, while many more could pay higher premiums or lose parts of their coverage, according to the New York Times.

The specter of a repeal has loomed for most of the past year as a lawsuit brought by Republican officials from 18 states worked its way through the federal court system.

In December, a federal circuit court found the act’s individual mandate to own health insurance unconstitutional. The judges sent the case back to a conservative lower court for further deliberation. 

Observers warn the case is on track for a final ruling in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. If Obamacare is tossed, it would mean insurance companies could charge more or not cover you for preexisting conditions, among other requirements.

In Harrisburg, the resolution pushing for some federal help was introduced by Rep. Tony DeLuca, of Allegheny County who’s the ranking Democrat on the House Insurance Committee.

He told the Capital-Star last week that if the act is found unlawful, “you’ll have chaos in this commonwealth.”

While DeLuca is cosponsoring many of the proposals to add or expand ACA provisions to state law, he said just getting a vote on the resolution was due to a “good rapport with the majority.”

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To force the Republican majority’s hand, DeLuca added that Democrats have filed discharge resolutions on four ACA-related bills. While the proposals have been bottled in committee, a discharge would let the legislation skip out of committee and move closer to a final vote.

This health care debate also carries political weight. Democrats campaigned extensively on the issue in 2018 and have continued to do so in 2020, hoping to win races up and down the ballot.

While Republicans continue to target Obamacare, the law also enabled a rare bit of substantial, bipartisan compromise in Harrisburg. It came last year, when the General Assembly established a Pennsylvania health care exchange to replace healthcare.gov for state residents to purchase insurance policies.

The proposal, sponsored by Cutler, passed near unanimously with promises that it would reduce health insurance premiums.

Straub said in an email that the state exchange was “widely accepted thanks to seeing definitive results in other states, the potential cost savings, and the endorsement of the White House.”

As proposals to protect pre-existing conditions are still hypothetical, Straub added, the response shouldn’t be passing new laws but resolutions to raise awareness of the issue.

“It’s not our job to pass hypothetical bills that address hypothetical situations,” Cutler said on the floor Monday.

Schweyer noted that he expected the resolution to easily pass. But he still noted the irony that lawmakers from a party that ran on vilifying Obamacare now would ceremoniously vote in favor of some of its most popular provisions.

“Maybe if we rebrand it ReaganCare, [Republicans will] be more apt to support it, I don’t know,” Schweyer said.