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WASHINGTON — Washington is bracing for a burst of legislative activity at the start of 2017. Topping the agenda for the Republican party, which will control both houses of Congress and the White House, is a full assault on President Barack Obama’s health care law, his signature domestic achievement that has dramatically reduced the number of uninsured Americans but failed to keep the cost of health care premiums in check.
“When it comes to #Obamacare, repeal means relief — relief from higher costs, low-quality care, & more broken promises,” tweeted House Speaker Paul Ryan on Friday.
Nearly seven years after Obamacare became law, a record number Americans have health insurance. More than six million have signed up this year alone, even as the law’s future has been in doubt. But not everyone is happy.
“Unfortunately, it’s not affordable,” said Pennsylvania retail worker Kristy Burgina. “Everybody’s health insurance, their health premiums keep going up, keep going up.”
Large premium increases were common before Obamacare. But the law’s premise — that younger, healthier Americans would buy health care plans and offset the cost of insuring the elderly — has not panned out. Major health insurance providers have dropped out of the program, with those remaining boosting premiums by an average of 25 percent for next year.
“We will repeal the disaster known as Obamacare and create new health care, all sorts of reforms that work for you and your family,” President-elect Donald Trump told supporters at a post-election rally last week.
Democrats insist Obamacare should be saved rather than scrapped.
“We want to try to improve the bill. We know it could be improved,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada earlier this month.
For years, Republicans promised to end Obamacare. Once Trump is president, they believe they will have their chance.
“We will move right after the first of the year on an Obamacare replacement resolution,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “And then we will work expeditiously to come up with a better proposal than current law.
“Doing nothing is not an option,” the Kentucky Republican added.
Democrats note that, so far, Republicans have not provided exact details of their replacement plan. When pressed by reporters, McConnell would say only that a Republican proposal would be produced at a later date.
“What do you want to replace it with?” asked Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, who will replace Reid as minority leader next year. “They [Republicans] can’t come up with an answer. We’re certainly not going to be part of this idea of repeal and put nothing in its place.”
Democrats are betting any Republican plan to replace Obamacare will anger just as many Americans as Obamacare itself.
“To our Republican friends across the aisle: bring it on [show the plan],” Schumer said.
Health care spending accounts for more than 17 percent of U.S. gross domestic product — the the highest level in any advanced industrialized nation.