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Alexander Says 'Step-By-Step' Process Only Way to Change Obamacare

By Niels Lesniewski

December 18, 2015 -- The way to change Obamacare in the coming years will be through bipartisan adjustments, one of the Senate GOP leaders on health policy said Thursday.

"I think over the next four or five years it'll be changed step-by-step toward a health care system with more freedom for people to find policies, more choices and hopefully lower prices," Lamar Alexander, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, said Thursday when asked about the future of the health care law.

Republicans have worked to use the budget reconciliation process to get a broader rollback prepared to be able to get to President Barack Obama's desk, but that amended measure will face a certain veto when cleared through the House.

Speaking during an interview for C-SPAN's "Newsmakers" program that is scheduled to air on Dec. 20, the Tennessee Republican said the recently enacted overhaul of elementary and secondary education that replaced the much-despised No Child Left Behind law could serve as a model.

The HELP Committee spearheaded that effort in the Senate, with Alexander and ranking Democrat Patty Murray of Washington taking the lead, but much of the health care puzzle is shared with the Finance Committee.

It's the revenue pieces of the Affordable Care Act that might prove the most difficult to address over the long term. While several Obamacare taxes, including the so-called "Cadillac tax" on premium health insurance plans, will be delayed as part of the big appropriations and tax deal moving through Congress this week, patches are considered very expensive by the Joint Committee on Taxation, since preventing collection of the taxes obviously reduces revenue.

"This was an historic mistake," Alexander said. "That the design of his health care law was a bad idea. It expanded a health care system that already cost too much. It told people that Washington knows better than you what policy you ought to buy. You might want a lower-cost policy that fits your budget and fits your health care needs, Washington's saying, 'No, you can't do it.'"

Alexander said that over the long-term, the lost Obamacare revenue might need offsets. As a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, Alexander sought to emphasize that the omnibus spending bill's funding itself is not driving the deficit.

"It's the two-thirds of the budgets that we don't work on, which is mandatory spending that is the big problem," Alexander said, referring to entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare. "So, we need to keep in mind health care costs as we try to fix Obamacare."

"We're going to have to change this, and we're going to have to do this carefully so we don't hurt people more than they've been hurt," Alexander said of the health care law itself. "Well, we can't do it in a partisan way. I like the No Child Left Behind fix."

A bipartisan deal to change Obama's signature health care law probably isn't on the table while the current president remains in the White House, even but looking down the road, bipartisan fixes would be a marked change from the chants of "full repeal."

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