By Scott Robertson
January cannot come fast enough for Phil Roe. Roe’s first term in the U.S. House of Representatives representing the First Congressional District of Tennessee began at the same time Barack Obama entered the White House. Come 2017, after eight years of gridlock between the House and the White House, Roe will, for the first time, enter his office at the Capital with a Republican at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.
Roe won re-election last week with 78.4 percent of the vote over Democrat Allen Bohms (15.4 percent) and independent candidate Robert Franklin (6.2 percent). He garnered almost 200,000 of the 250,000 votes cast in the first district.
The congressman, who authored a 2014 Obamacare alternative proposal that garnered more than 100 co-sponsors, is eager to begin the legislative process of repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act (ACA). “It has really emboldened us that President-Elect Trump has said that this was one of his top priorities,” Roe said. “I think the first thing you should do is to do the things you told the American people you would do. You keep your promises. I suspect starting next week we will begin the plan to work on it.
Roe cautioned, however, that doing so will be a long process, not a quick event. “It will go through regular order. It will need the reconciliation process. As I understand it, and I’m not a parliamentarian – I hate that stuff, but as I understand it, Senator Byrd set it up several years ago so that you can address taxes without a 60-vote supermajority in the Senate.”
That being the case, a Federal Budget must be passed before reconciliation can be utilized. “That,” Roe cautioned, “ain’t no easy task.”
Once the process begins, the GOP must have an alternative in place to prevent a vacuum in which neither Obamacare nor any other system would cover those who currently have coverage under the ACA.
“The Democrats are going to say, ‘You’re taking care away from 20 million people.’” Roe said. “What I’m going to say is, ‘No, we’re providing affordable health care to 20 million or more people.’”
While there may be some portions of the ACA that will be easy to abolish without having to provide a replacement – the Medical Device Tax and “Cadillac Plan” Tax are among those, the heavy lifting of replacing Obamacare will require patience from all involved, Roe said.
“We can’t do anything this year because the markets are already set. So whatever we do, I think, will take 18 months to two years. People begin their planning years next July. That’s only eight months away.”
As the debate on how to replace the ACA begins, Roe said he will argue in favor of bringing more competition to the healthcare market. “In Tennessee, 70 counties only have one choice. In North Carolina, they have 100 counties and 95 have only one choice. We need, in the small-group and individual markets, to increase competition. We need to create a marketplace.”
Trump has already stated he would favor keeping some aspects of the ACA in place under whatever plan Congress brings forth. Among those are allowances for individuals with pre-existing conditions to keep coverage and for individuals under the age of 26 to continue to be covered under their parents’ plans. The president-elect also stated his administration would work with Congress in the process.