Burwell Draws Line On Health Subsidy Fix

President Obama will oppose Republican plans that end key Affordable Care Act insurance requirements if the Supreme Court rules against the administration, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said Wednesday.

Speaking at a House Ways and Means Committee hearing, Burwell specifically rejected a proposal from Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) that would extend Obamacare subsidies in states with federal exchanges until 2017 but end many insurance coverage requirements. Johnson’s proposal has 31 Republican cosponsors, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.).

“With regard to the Johnson piece of legislation, that piece of legislation, from our perspective, is repeal,” Burwell said at the hearing.

Burwell said the president would oppose Johnson’s plan because it would end the law’s individual and employer insurance coverage requirements.

The Health and Human Services Secretary repeatedly said the responsibility falls on Congress, the states and governors to help the more than 6 million Americans who stand to lose subsidies.

“If the court says that we do not have the authority to give subsidies, the critical decisions will sit with the Congress and states and governors,” Burwell said.

The hearing marks a continued shift in the Obama administration’s rhetoric on the Supreme Court case known as King v. Burwell. A ruling on the case is expected at the end of June or early July.

Before Wednesday’s hearing, Burwell and other administration officials refused to comment on contingency plans in the event of a Supreme Court ruling against their position. On Monday, Obama said Congress “could fix this whole thing with a one-sentence provision” if necessary.

In a February hearing at the Senate Finance Committee, Burwell deflected questions on what the administration might do if the court rules against their position. She said then that her focus was on the Obamacare open enrollment period that ended on Feb. 15.

Burwell’s statements on Wednesday indicate that Obama would oppose the majority of Republican replacement plans for King v. Burwell. Congressional Republicans have floated multiple proposals, and nearly all would end the law’s requirements to purchase health insurance.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan said Republicans are not interested in simply allowing subsidies on the federal marketplace.

“The answer isn’t just to tighten a few screws and everything will be fine,” Ryan (Wis.) said. “The answer is to repeal and replace this law with patient-centered reform.”

Morning Consult