WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The sweeping tax overhaul that passed the U.S. Senate on Saturday contains the Republicans’ biggest blow yet to former President Barack Obama’s healthcare law, repealing the requirement that all Americans obtain health insurance.
The individual mandate is meant to ensure a viable health insurance market by forcing younger and healthier Americans to buy coverage to help offset the cost of sicker patients. It helps uphold the most popular provision of the law, which requires insurers charge sick and healthy people the same rates.
Removing it while keeping the rest of Obama’s Affordable Care Act intact is expected to cause insurance premiums to rise and lead to millions of people losing coverage, policy experts say.
“It’s going to take a bunch of healthy people out of the insurance market,” said Craig Garthwaite, director of the healthcare program at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.
Obamacare “is going to collapse even more now,” he said.
Republican lawmakers failed several times this year to scrap the mandate as part of a broader repeal of Obamacare, blocked by opposition from a few of the party’s senators, including Susan Collins of Maine.
Collins, still opposed to removing the mandate, said she voted for the tax bill on Saturday after being assured by Republican leaders that they will support legislation to prop up U.S. health insurance markets.
The tax bill is not yet final. The U.S. House of Representatives and Senate must now reconcile the differences in their respective versions of the legislation.
“Repealing the individual mandate simply restores to people the freedom to choose,” Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, who has opposed previous Obamacare repeal efforts, wrote in an opinion piece in Alaska’s Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
“Instead of taxing people for not being able to afford coverage, we should be working to reduce costs and provide options.”
One of the Obamacare stabilization bills, co-authored by Republican Senator Lamar Alexander and Democratic Senator Patty Murray, would restore billions of dollars in subsidies that…