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As health reform case looms in Supreme Court, GOP split on response


(Reuters) — Republicans face a potential political backlash from voters if the U.S. Supreme Court rules soon against President Barack Obama's health care law, and are split over what to do about it, with some calling on the Obama administration for help.

But the White House, perhaps sensing a chance to blame Republicans for trouble, is showing no outward signs of crafting a contingency plan in case of an adverse outcome in King v. Burwell, expected to be ruled on by the end of this month.

The outcome could mean millions of Americans, many of them Republicans, would lose their Affordable Care Act health insurance coverage. One of them might be Rosel Ettress, of Chicago.

A daycare center manager and mother of three, Ms. Ettress could lose $250 a month in tax subsidies that help her afford the premiums for her insurance under 2010's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

She said in a telephone interview that this would be a blow, and she urged Republicans and Democrats in Congress to act.

"I would like for Congress to come up with a way to fix this where everyone could still get the subsidies and still save a little money in the process," she said.

King v. Burwell is the result of a lawsuit brought by anti-ACA libertarian activists. Ordinarily, Republicans might be expected to cheer for a ruling damaging to the health reform law, which the party has opposed since its passage.

But there are many Republicans among the 6.4 million low- and middle-income Americans who get ACA premium subsidies in 34 states. If those Americans lost their coverage as a result of the case, who would they blame at the polls in 2016?

Republicans divided

Republicans in Congress have been working on post-King v. Burwell plans for months but still can't decide what to do. Some favor extending the subsidies long enough to protect people like Ms. Ettress for a time and prevent them from possibly seeking revenge on the party.

In another approach, the Republican Study Committee, a group of some 170 House of Representatives conservatives, on Thursday proposed a model for a longer-term replacement for the health care reform law.

But the group's chairman, Rep. Bill Flores, R-Texas, said it would not offer an interim plan for the immediate aftermath of King v. Burwell, in part because members cannot agree on whether to temporarily extend the subsidies.

"I will not vote to extend the subsidies unless the president is willing to sit down with us and do the things to reduce the overall cost of the premiums," said Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., a member of the committee, at a news conference.

In the Senate, there was rising Republican anxiety about what might need to be done in the wake of King v. Burwell.

Twenty-one of 24 Republicans who are running for re-election to the Senate next year are from states on the federal exchange, Health, which King v. Burwell specifically targets and from which the court could make the subsidies disappear.

"Millions have grown accustomed to those subsidies, and we're gonna have to replace them" if the court nixes them, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told Reuters earlier this week.

One of the senators running for re-election in 2016, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., has 31 co-sponsors including Sen. McCain for his bill to extend the subsidies through August 2017.

Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., a Senate Republican leader, this week said President Obama should step in. "The president made the mess. He doesn't seem to be a willing partner to work with in finding solutions to the mess he's made," Sen. Barrasso said.

White House officials said they have no Plan B if the Court rules against the administration.

"If the Supreme Court were to throw the health care system in this country into utter chaos, there would be no easy solutions for solving that problem," spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters at a briefing on Wednesday.

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