The president said new healthcare plan may not arrive until 2018 despite prior timelines, as Republicans face pressure to present alternative before repealing
By Amanda Holpuch in New York / The Guardian / Monday 6 February 2017 16.51 EST
Donald Trump’s comments on Sunday suggesting that a replacement for Obamacare may not arrive until 2018 coincides with crowds turning out to pressure Republicans not to scrap the system too hastily.
On the campaign trail, Trump repeatedly promised one of his first actions as president would be to simultaneously repeal and replace the landmark healthcare legislation – a plan that was heartily endorsed by Republican lawmakers.
And as recently as mid-January he told the Washington Post he was near completing a plan which would provide “insurance for everybody”, without revealing details.
But in a Fox News interview that aired Sunday night, Trump said of replacing Obamacare: “In the process and maybe it will take till sometime into next year, but we are certainly going to be in the process. It’s very complicated.”
He continued to say it would “statutorily take a while” to get a new healthcare plan.
“We’re going to be putting it in fairly soon, I think that, yes, I would like to say by the end of the year at least the rudiments, but we should have something within the year and the following year,” Trump said.
Trump signed an executive order to begin the process of dismantling the Affordable Care Act (ACA), one of Barack Obama’s signature achievements, hours after taking office. But as the government works to tear down the law, polls have shown it is becoming more popular the closer it gets to being repealed.
Joe Antos, a healthcare scholar for the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said it was difficult to know whether Trump’s comments were a response to those polls, but he viewed his statements as a positive sign the administration is realizing how long it could take to implement campaign promises.
“I’m taking the more optimistic view that they’ve been talking about what it takes to change the existing law and it’s beginning to become clearer to him and everybody else that it’s just going to take some time,” Antos said.
Last month, Trump said a plan to repeal and replace the health law would be implemented once his pick for health and human services secretary, Georgia representative Tom Price, was sworn in.
“It will be essentially simultaneously,” Trump said on 11 January. “The same day or the same week … could be the same hour.”
But as that hour approaches – Price could take the office as early as this week – Trump has now steered from his plan to immediately repeal and replace.
In recent weeks, Republican enthusiasm for repealing Obamacare has faced increasing backlash, reflected in the polls and on the streets.
Over the weekend, Republican lawmakers faced jeering crowds at town halls in California and Florida, where constituents voiced their concerns about repealing Obamacare without a substantive alternative in place.
California congressman Tom McClintock had to be escorted out of a town hall meeting for constituents just outside of the state’s capitol, Sacramento, after facing tough questions about the health law.
McClintock had raised his own concerns about his party’s plans in secret recordings obtained by news outlets, including the Guardian.
Repealing key provisions of the ACA would leave 32 million people without health coverage over the next decade, according to an analysis released last month by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
Top Senate Republicans such as Lamar Alexander, chairman of the health committee, have hesitated to support an aggressive repeal.
On Monday, Alexander said Congress would vote to repeal and replace the ACA this year, but echoed Trump’s claims that it would be a slow process.
“While we will vote to repeal Obamacare this year, the repeal will take effect when concrete, practical alternatives are in place,” Alexander wrote in a blogpost.
Republicans have sought to repeal the health law, which has give 20 million Americans health insurance, since it first debated seven years ago.
“Nobody has any doubt that Trump wants to repeal Obamacare – the key is what is Congress doing about it?” said Dan Holler, vice-president of communications and government relations for Heritage Action for America, a conservative advocacy group.
He said there has not been a strong push by Republicans to get a repeal bill on Trump’s desk, but the delay doesn’t mean repeal won’t happen.
“The repeal is going to happen, but the longer it drags out, the more emboldened the left becomes and the more people in the media write about how Obamacare [replacement] is being delayed,” Holler said. “None of that is good in terms of actually getting good conservative health care policy that actually empowers patients through the congressional process and onto president Trump’s desk.”