Obamacare replacement bill takes center stage in U.S. Senate

By Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A seven-year push by U.S. Republicans to dismantle Obamacare and kill the taxes it imposed on the wealthy will reach a critical juncture on Thursday when Senate Republican leaders unveil a draft bill they aim to put to a vote, possibly as early as next week.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his lieutenants have worked in secret for weeks on the bill, which is expected to curb Obamacare’s expanded Medicaid help for the poor and reshape subsidies to low-income people for private insurance.

The subsidies are expected to be linked to recipients’ income in the Senate bill, a “major improvement” from a measure approved last month by the U.S. House of Representatives that tied them solely to age, Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine said.

Some of the Senate bill’s provisions could be political land mines, with individual senators’ reactions crucial to determining whether or not the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, survives a Republican attack that has been underway since its passage in 2010.

A draft outline circulating among lobbyists and Senate aides said Republicans would propose to give states more latitude to opt out of Obamacare regulations and limit money for Planned Parenthood, a healthcare provider that offers abortion services.

The draft outline also detailed funds to stabilize U.S. insurance markets, where customers’ high medical costs have driven premium rates higher and pushed out health insurers in 2017; the situation is expected to worsen in 2018.

The Republican bill would provide $50 billion through 2021 as a short-term measure, but a separate pot of money would provide another $62 billion from 2019 through 2026, the draft said.

It was unclear what approach the bill would take to Obamacare taxes. Some reports Wednesday said the bill would seek to repeal most of the taxes that pay for Obamacare, but senators had discussed keeping some of these at least for a while, such as a…

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