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GOP senators offer ACA replacement plan that would let states keep Obamacare

WASHINGTON  -- A few GOP senators are selling their plan with the same language former President Obama used to sell his.

“Republicans think if you like your insurance you should keep it,” Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy said Monday. “And we mean it.”

He and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, along with Sens. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Johnny Isakson of Georgia proposed legislation that lets states keep former President Obama’s health care overhaul or opt for a new program providing trimmed-down coverage.

States “could opt to stay in Obamacare.  Or they could opt for no federal help,” Cassidy told reporters.

The plan offered by the four senators retreats from years of GOP cries to repeal Obama’s law and replace it with an undefined Republican alternative. It comes as GOP lawmakers face pressure from President Trump to quickly void and replace the health law and as Republicans continue hunting for a proposal that would unite them.

“Ours is, I believe, the only bill that has the unique combination of allowing states to keep the Affordable Care Act if it is working for their residents,” Collins told reporters Monday.  “That means they would still receive the subsidies, the tax credits, the consumer protections, and they would still be bound by the individual and the employer mandate.”

Mr. Trump has said he wants to keep some of the Obama overhaul’s consumer protections, like requiring insurers to cover people with pre-existing medical problems. Collins and Cassidy said their bill preserves many of those.

But Mr. Trump and congressional GOP leaders have not suggested letting states retain the entire statute. Such a proposal could dismay conservative voters who for years have viewed Republican calls to repeal the law as a top-tier promise and goal.

Cassidy said he’s discussed the proposal with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who he said is “waiting to see how this plays out.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said the GOP measure would reduce care and drive up medical costs for consumers.

“Ultimately, this proposal is an empty facade that would create chaos - not care - for millions of Americans,” he said.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., planned to meet late Monday with Vice President Mike Pence and top administration officials to discuss health care. Later this week, congressional Republicans will stage a retreat in Philadelphia at which health care will be a chief topic.

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Cassidy described the senators’ proposal as a way to help Republicans overcome a key obstacle: To enact a full replacement for Obama’s law, they will need 60 Senate votes in a chamber they control by just 52-48.

“At some point in the process we are going to need a bill that will get 60 votes,” Cassidy explained. “We just do. If you can say to a blue state senator who is really invested in supporting Obamacare, you can keep Obamacare,  but why force it on us.  We think that helps us get to 60 [votes.]”

If states decided against keeping Obama’s statute, the senators’ proposal would let them adopt a program that charges consumers a high deductible and helps cover some basic medical services like emergency care and prescriptions.

Insurers would not be allowed to refuse coverage to people with pre-existing medical problems, and money states would get under existing law would instead go to patients in the form of a tax-advantaged health savings account they’d use to pay for care. People could also choose to buy more extensive coverage.

States could also completely design their own program but would receive no federal payments if they did.

CBS News’ John Nolen contributed to this report.

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