Republican efforts to overhaul the U.S. health care system may need to move to the back burner so Congress instead can prioritize a short-term measure to stabilize health insurance markets, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson said Wednesday.
Johnson made the comments to reporters after he met privately with Assembly Republicans at the state Capitol on Wednesday.
They are a concession to what Johnson calls the “tough political process” facing GOP senators in crafting and passing a bill that significantly rolls back former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, as they and GOP President Donald Trump have vowed to do.
Republican senators reportedly are developing their own health care bill instead of taking up the American Health Care Act passed by Republicans in the U.S. House earlier this month. Polls have shown that bill is deeply unpopular.
Johnson, R-Oshkosh, said Congress’ first order of business may be to pass a short-term “market stabilization” bill, which he said could send billions of dollars to states to address volatility in health care exchanges created under Obama’s Affordable Care Act. The purpose would be to dissuade insurers from pulling out of those state exchanges, he said.
“To me, this may be a two-part process. I would admit that’s probably a minority view in the Republican Senate right now,” Johnson said.
Johnson downplayed a recent estimate from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that under the House GOP bill, the number of Americans without health coverage would increase by 23 million by 2026.
He suggested many of those people would voluntarily opt out of coverage in the absence of the individual mandate for all Americans to have coverage, which the House bill repeals. But the budget office also estimated that under the bill, by 2026, 14 million fewer Americans would be covered under Medicaid, which serves the very poor or disabled.
“Millions of those individuals, when they’re given the freedom, they’re not going to buy these overly inflated health care policies because they can’t afford them,” Johnson said.
Johnson, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, also said he’s no fan of the recent decision by the U.S. Department of Justice to name former FBI Director Robert Mueller as Special Counsel of the bureau’s investigation into possible ties between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russian officials.
“What I think is a shame is now, when we have a special counsel, it’s going to slow down and inhibit the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation,” Johnson said.
Johnson was referring to a separate investigation of the matter by the intelligence committee, led by GOP Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina.
Johnson declined to say whether it was appropriate for Trump to ask former FBI Director James Comey to end his investigation into Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. The New York Times made that disclosure earlier this month with a report based on excerpts of a memo written by Comey detailing his conversation with Trump.
“I’m just not going to answer questions on that,” Johnson said.
Comey is set to confirm the reports about Trump’s efforts to quash the FBI-Flynn investigation during formal public testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee, CNN reported Wednesday. The testimony reportedly could come as early as next week.