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Obamacare repeal process as U.S. Senate approves measure.


The U.S. Senate
on Thursday took a first concrete step toward dismantling Obamacare,
voting to instruct key committees to draft legislation repealing
President Barack Obama’s signature health insurance program.

The
resolution, passed in the early hours of Thursday in a 51-48 vote, now
goes to the House of Representatives, which is expected to vote on it
this week. Scrapping Obamacare is a top priority for Republican
President-elect Donald Trump and the Republican majorities in both
chambers.

Republicans have said the process of
repealing Obamacare could take months, and developing a replacement plan
could take longer. But they are under pressure from Trump to act fast
after he said on Wednesday that the repeal and replacement should happen
“essentially simultaneously.”

Some
20 million previously uninsured Americans gained health coverage
through the Affordable Care Act, as Obamacare is officially called.
Coverage was extended by expanding Medicaid and through online exchanges
where consumers can receive income-based subsidies.

Republicans have launched repeated legal and
legislative efforts to unravel the law, criticizing it as government
overreach. They say they want to replace it by giving states, not the
federal government, more control.

But
in recent days some Republicans have expressed concern about the
party’s current strategy of voting for a repeal without having a
consensus replacement plan ready.

House
Speaker Paul Ryan said this week he wants to pack as many replacement
provisions as possible into the legislation repealing Obamacare. But
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, also a Republican, said
that could be difficult under Senate rules.

The
resolution approved Thursday instructs committees of the House and
Senate to draft repeal legislation by Jan. 27. Both chambers will then
need to approve the resulting legislation before any repeal goes into
effect.

Senate Republicans are using special budget
procedures that allow them to repeal Obamacare by a simple majority so
that they will not need Democratic votes. Republicans have 52 votes in
the 100-seat Senate. One Republican, Senator Rand Paul, voted no on
Thursday.

Democrats
mocked the Republican effort, saying Republicans have never united
around an alternative to Obamacare. “They want to kill ACA but they have
no idea how they are going to bring forth a substitute proposal,” said
Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, an independent who caucuses with the
Democrats.

On Wednesday, Trump said he would submit a
replacement plan as soon as his nominee to lead the Health and Human
Services Department, Representative Tom Price, is approved by the
Senate. Trump gave no details.

Trump senior adviser Kellyanne Conway praised lawmakers for clearing
the way for repeal and said the replacement effort will likely tackle
medication costs.

“To repeal and replace Obamacare and not have a
conversation about drug pricing seems not like a very reasonable
prospect and not (a) responsible prospect,” Conway told Bloomberg
Television on Thursday, one day after Trump targeted the pharmaceutical
industry, a traditional Republican ally.

Democrats
passed the Affordable Care Act in 2010 over united Republican
opposition. Democrats say the act is insuring more Americans and helping
to slow the growth in healthcare spending.

But Republicans say the system is not working. The average Obamacare premium is set to rise 25 percent in 2017.

File Photo: A boy waits in line at a health insurance enrollment event in Cudahy, California March 27, 2014. REUTERS/Lucy NicholsonFile Photo: A boy waits in line at a health insurance enrollment event in Cudahy, California March 27, 2014.

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