CBO Says ACA Repeal Would Add 32 Million Uninsured by 2026, Lower Deficit by $473 Billion--Update

By Stephanie Armour Features Dow Jones Newswires

A Senate Republican push to repeal the Affordable Care Act would cause 32 million more people to be without insurance coverage by 2026 and decrease the federal deficit by $473 billion, according to a new federal report released Wednesday.

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The estimate also projects that repealing the ACA would double premium increases by 2026.

The analysis by the Congressional Budget Office on the ACA repeal, a move championed by President Donald Trump, largely mirrors an earlier analysis the nonpartisan organization conducted when Republicans voted to repeal most of the health law in 2015.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) has suggested the Senate could vote on that measure again next week. Then-President Barack Obama vetoed the legislation, but Mr. Trump has said he would sign it.

The number of insured would drop under a repeal because the ACA's expansion of Medicaid would be reversed; a requirement that most Americans get insurance or pay a tax would be rescinded; and subsidies to lower-income Americans would end.

A planned review by CBO of the current Senate GOP bill to overhaul the health-care system, as well as a proposal by Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) that would let insurers offer cheaper, less-comprehensive plans, has yet to be released.

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The Trump administration and Republicans have argued that CBO's reports are fallible and have criticized its findings in recent days.

The CBO report examines the effect of repealing most of the health law without a replacement system in place. Mr. McConnell has called for a vote early next week on a motion that would allow such a repeal bill to be debated, a tactic he and Mr. Trump pursued after at least four Republican Senators said they couldn't support moving forward on a Senate bill that sought to repeal and replace much of the law, also known as Obamacare, at the same time.

Republicans have been struggling in their efforts to deliver on a seven-year pledge to topple the ACA, with efforts to overhaul health policy nearly dying only to be revived again. It is unlikely the Senate would get enough votes for a broader repeal, but efforts are again picking up to hammer out a way forward on legislation that both guts the ACA and sets up a GOP-shaped health plan.

Either way, the Senate couldn't repeal the entire law because of complex budget procedures that would allow Republicans to pass the bill with a simply 50-vote majority.

The repeal bill would immediately end the requirement that most people pay a penalty for not having insurance, and would later end enhanced federal funding for Medicaid. It would repeal ACA taxes, but it wouldn't end insurance regulations that require certain benefits to be covered and that bar insurers from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions.

If enacted, the repeal-only measure would increase the number of people who are uninsured by 17 million in 2018 compared with current law, according to the report by CBO and the Joint Committee on Taxation. That would rise to 27 million in 2020 after elimination of enhanced federal funding to 31 states and Washington, D.C., which expanded Medicaid.

The end of the mandate that most people have insurance likely would cause healthier people to drop coverage, leaving a larger percentage of older and less healthy people in the insurance pool. That dynamic would drive up premiums, according to the report.

Average premiums for individuals purchased through exchanges or insurers would increase by about 25% next year compared with the ACA, the report said. The increase would reach about 50% in 2020.

Conservative advocacy groups are pressing for a fuller repeal, saying anything less fails to fulfill GOP campaign promises. Jenny Beth Martin, president of Tea Party Patriots, said Wednesday that the Senate must act to repeal the health law, saying the group is sick and tired of "fake repeal."

Republicans have long railed against the ACA, saying it is causing premiums to rise and that it amounts to government intrusion into health care. Democrats have said they are willing to work with Republicans on ways to improve the ACA and health policy if they drop their repeal effort.

Write to Stephanie Armour at stephanie.armour@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

July 19, 2017 18:42 ET (22:42 GMT)