Congress sends bill to gut Obamacare, to certain veto

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Congress on Wednesday approved legislation dismantling President Barack Obama’s signature health care plan, putting on his desk an election-year measure that faces a certain veto.

Demonstrators in favor of Obamacare gather at the Supreme Court building in Washington March 4, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Republicans have been vowing to gut the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare,” since 2010, when the then Democratic-majority Congress passed the landmark program designed to provide health care for millions of uninsured Americans - over the united opposition of Republicans.

The House has voted to dismantle Obamacare dozens of times, but Republicans were unable to get a repeal measure through the Senate until late last year, when they used a procedural maneuver denying Democrats’ ability to block the legislation.

The Republican-run House of Representatives finalized passage on Wednesday on a 240-181 vote, sending the bill to the White House. Republican leaders are expected to try to override Obama’s promised veto, but they lack the two-thirds majority needed to do so.

The bill would also take funds away from Planned Parenthood, another target of Republicans after undercover videos showed officials of the women’s healthcare provider discussing the sale of fetus parts for research.

Democrats scoffed at the Obamacare repeal, with Representative Chris van Hollen saying Obama would veto it in a “nanosecond.” But Republicans insisted passing the bill was important to keep a promise to their political base.

“We are confronting the president with the hard, honest truth. Obamacare doesn’t work,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said. Republicans intend to propose a replacement, but for it to become law, “ultimately, this is going to require a Republican president,” Ryan said.

Some plans sold via Obamacare insurance exchanges have been struggling with weak enrollment, higher-than-expected medical costs and increased premiums.

But Democrats say the law has insured more Americans and is helping slow the growth in healthcare spending. The government estimated over 9.1 million people were enrolled for healthcare through the program at the end of 2015.

Any repeal of Obamacare would phase out an expansion of Medicaid healthcare benefits for the poor and eliminate health insurance subsidies for millions of Americans.

But it would save money. The Congressional Budget Office said the legislation would reduce the deficit by $516 billion over 10 years.

Republicans were unapologetic about proposing to shrink Medicaid, saying it needs reform. “Under Obamacare, millions of Americans have been added to a Medicaid system that is already failing to provide its beneficiaries with adequate access to physicians and treatments,” said Representative Tom Price.

Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Andrew Hay