Health and Science

Obamacare plans coming soon GOP vows as Dems grill Trump's big health-care pick

Seema Verma testifies before the Senate Finance Committee on her nomination to be the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, in the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, on February 16, 2017.
Mandel Ngan | AFP | Getty Images

The White House and House Republicans said Thursday they are close to presenting their health-care reform plans, as Democrats grilled President Donald Trump's pick to head the agency that will carry out their plans.

House Speaker Paul Ryan said they plan to introduce legislation as early as next Tuesday.

"Obamacare is not simply stuck in some kind of status quo. It is getting worse by the day, and it will keep getting worse unless we act," said Ryan, citing Humana's announcement that it will exit the Obamacare exchanges in 2018 earlier this week.

"After the House returns following President's Day, we intend to introduce legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare," the Speaker said.

Yet, Ryan offered few details about the legislation, and a number of House Republican leaders say there is still no consensus on the details of a replacement package for Obamacare.

Former Obamacare exec says changes aren't enough to prevent insurer exit
Former Obamacare exec says changes aren't enough to prevent insurer exit

At the White House, Trump said during a wide-ranging press conference that he would be submitting his health reform plan sometime next month.

"We're doing Obamacare, we're in the final stages," the president said. "We will be submitting sometime in early March, mid-March."

The president has said he favors restructuring funding for the Medicaid program, which provides health coverage to the poor and disabled, through so-called block grants.

Democrats hit hard at Seema Verma, Trump's pick to head the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, during her confirmation hearing in the Senate Finance Committee about whether she supports the president's proposals.

"We need to think about how we can make this program work better. The status quo is not acceptable," said Verma, founder and CEO of Indiana-based consulting firm SVC, during her confirmation hearing. "We can hold states accountable for producing better outcomes."

Verma was the architect of the Hoosier state's Medicaid expansion program under then-Governor Mike Pence. The program, known as the Healthy Indian Plan, requires residents to pay into health-savings accounts, and risk losing coverage if they miss a payment.

Health care spending in US expected to jump: CMS
Health care spending in US expected to jump: CMS

Right now funding for the Medicaid program is open-ended; the federal government and the states split costs for medical expenses. Under block grants, states would receive a fixed amount per enrollee covered, instead.

Senator Maria Cantwell, a Democrat from Washington, argued the Republican plan would leave states with funding shortfalls and result in millions losing coverage.

"I have many grave concerns about this notion about block granting Medicaid," Cantwell said, as she questioned Verma about her support of the reforms.

"What I support is the program working better, and whether that's a block grant or a per capita cap, there are many ways that we can get there," Verma said, adding "at the end of the day, the program isn't working as it should."

Verma ducked questions about whether she supported the president's call to give Medicare the authority to negotiate drug prices, and also demurred when it came to questions about the impact of an Obamacare repeal, saying that the policies would be up to Congress.

Medicaid restructuring is among the issues that remain up for debate, both among Republicans in Congress and outside the Beltway, among GOP governors who worry about funding cuts.

Earlier this month, Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb requested a renewal of the federal waiver to maintain Obamacare funding for the Healthy Indiana Plan Medicaid Expansion Program, which Seema Verma helped put together.

If confirmed as director of CMS, Seema Verma will be at the center of trying to trying to sort out the administration's priorities, while the White House and Congress get a plan together.

CNBC Update: Paul Ryan looks for ACA replacement this year
CNBC Update: Paul Ryan looks for ACA replacement this year