Republicans’ hurdle on Obamacare isn’t Washington, it’s America, HHS chief says

President Barack Obama has asked Democrats in Congress to fight the dismantling of the Affordable Care Act.
President Barack Obama has asked Democrats in Congress to fight the dismantling of the Affordable Care Act. AP

Americans already benefiting from President Barack Obama’s health care law present the toughest obstacle for Republicans eager to rip it up, Obama’s outgoing Health and Human Services Secretary says.

“It’s not Washington; it’s the nation,” said Sylvia Burwell, who Obama brought in to oversee the Affordable Care Act in 2014 after the botched roll out of the health care plan’s website. Her farewell address at the National Press Club luncheon on Monday – with three women she said benefited from the plan – came as part of a Democratic effort to put a face on the risks of repeal, including inviting Obamacare enrollees to share their stories with the hashtag, #CoverageMatters.

Burwell, whose invitees included Kelley Deal, a guitarist with the band, The Breeders, said Republicans have yet to deliver a plan for replacement and that could create chaos in the insurance market.

“The only chance of not going over that cliff depends on opponents of the law doing in the next two years what they haven’t done in the past six,” Burwell said. “The American people deserve to know what the answers are before you take something like this away.”

Some Republicans have expressed worries about repealing the 2010 law without a plan to replace it and have struggled to find a way to keep the popular provisions, such as covering pre-existing conditions while dropping the unpopular mandate that requires most Americans to have insurance or pay a penalty.

“The Affordable Care Act and the health care system are a little like a game of Jenga,” Burwell said. “You may think that looks like a good piece to pull out or keep in, but the tower will fall because it’s related.”

Her appearance came as Senate Democrats planned to speak on the Senate floor “late into the night” and use Facebook Live to decry Republican plans to repeal the law.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who met Monday at Trump Tower with incoming president Donald Trump, said in a Fox News column that Republicans are “acting quickly” to repeal the law “because Obamacare is collapsing under its own weight, and things will continue to get worse otherwise.”

Lesley Clark: 202-383-6054, @lesleyclark