Republicans propose giving U.S. states option to keep Obamacare

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two Republican senators said on Monday that U.S. states should be allowed to stay in the Obamacare medical insurance program if they like, with one also saying she was confused by President Donald Trump’s broad but unspecific executive order targeting the program.

Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) speaks at a news conference with a bipartisan group of senators on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., to unveil a compromise proposal on gun control measures, June 21, 2016. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Trump and congressional Republicans campaigned on a promise to dismantle Obamacare, and they are working on carrying out that pledge as an early product of united Republican control of the White House and Congress.

But the legislative proposal by Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana would let states choose to keep Obamacare or move to a replacement program, for which states would also receive some federal funding.

Cassidy, himself a doctor, said such an approach could help attract Democratic votes that will be needed for an eventual replacement for Obamacare, former Democratic President Barack Obama’s health insurance program approved in 2010.

The proposal did not, however, win over the Senate’s leading Democrat, Chuck Schumer, who denounced the idea as an “empty facade” and a “far cry” from a full replacement for Obamacare.

Democrats strongly oppose a repeal of Obamacare, officially called the Affordable Care Act. But after a meeting Monday of congressional leaders and Trump, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said Democrats were willing to discuss Republican healthcare proposals if they accomplish the same goals.

“Well, we talked about the Affordable Care Act, and said, what the Affordable Care Act has been successful in doing is improving quality, expanding access and lowering costs. And any proposal that they might have that does that – we’d be interested in hearing about,” Pelosi said after the meeting at the White House.

At the Republican news conference earlier, Collins called Trump’s executive order issued Friday against Obamacare “very confusing,” adding that whatever actions the Trump administration takes, legislation will still be needed to replace the law.

“We really don’t know yet what the impact will be,” Collins, a moderate Republican, said, adding that it will be difficult to assess the order’s impact until there is a new Cabinet secretary in place in charge of health.

Trump signed his executive order on Friday within hours of taking office. It directs U.S. agencies to “waive, defer, grant exemptions from, or delay the implementation” of provisions of Obamacare deemed to impose fiscal burdens on states, companies or individuals.

The order did not specify which parts of Obamacare would be affected or the timing.

Trump’s nominee to head the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Representative Tom Price of Georgia, has said there is no plan for “pulling the rug out” on millions of Americans’ healthcare as a replacement is designed. Any changes are unlikely to affect in 2017 the government-funded or subsidized insurance plans covering more than 20 million people.

Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Leslie Adler