McConnell signals possible fallback plan if GOP health bill fails

Credit: Jamie Dupree

Credit: Jamie Dupree

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday that if a Republican plan to overhaul the Obama health law remains short of votes in the Senate, then lawmakers in Congress must still push ahead with separate plans to stabilize health insurance markets in the United States.

"If my side is unable to agree on an adequate replacement, then some kind of action with regard to the private health insurance market must occur," McConnell said at a Rotary Club lunch in Glasgow, Kentucky.

"No action is not an alternative," the Senate Majority Leader added in his remarks. "We've got the insurance markets imploding all over the country, including in this state."

McConnell had tried to keep Republicans in line on health care, but an effort to force a vote last week on a GOP plan came apart, delaying action into July - and at this point, there is no guarantee he will be able to cobble together 50 votes in the Senate.

If the GOP is still short of a majority in the Senate, then the only way McConnell can make a legislative move to shore up insurance markets is with a bill that would need support from Democrats - an ingredient that's been missing so far in the 2017 health care debate on Capitol Hill.

While McConnell was sending signals about what might be next, his fellow Kentucky Republican, Sen. Rand Paul, was holding his own town hall, and offering his own ideas on how to expand health insurance and lower the cost for consumers.

Paul used his event and an op-ed in the Louisville Courier-Journal to argue for broader use of "association health plans," to give individuals the chance to buy into coverage plans being offered under group insurance models.

Meanwhile, other Senate conservatives continue to push for a plan backed by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), known as the "Consumer Freedom Amendment" - it would allow insurance companies to sell health plans that don't follow all the rules of the Obama health law, if they also offer regular plans that adhere to the requirements of Obamacare.

"The current Senate bill is not an Obamacare repeal bill," said Conn Carroll, a spokesman for Sen. Lee. "No wonder it is so unpopular."

The Senate returns to legislative session on Monday - at this point, it seems unlikely that Republican leaders will have solved the Rubik's Cube that is the GOP health care plan.