The US Senate has voted to open the debate on beginning the repeal of Obamacare. The move prompted President Barack Obama to make a rare visit to Capitol Hill to urge Democrats to fight to preserve his signature policy.
Republican lawmakers in the US Senate on Wednesday brushed aside Democratic opposition and began efforts to scrap outgoing President Barack Obama's legacy-defining Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
Vice President-elect Mike Pence said repealing Obamacare would be the incoming Trump administration's "first order of business."
Pence said that President-elect Donald Trump would work in concert with congressional leaders in devising a "smooth transition to a market-based healthcare reform system" that would "lower the cost of health insurance without growing the size of government."
On Wednesday, the Senate voted 51-48 in a procedural tally that opened debate on beginning the Obamacare repeal process.
The Republican Party boasts a majority in both the US Senate and Congress, and, in Trump, will also soon have one of its own in the White House.
Trump tweeted Wednesday that Republicans "must be careful in that the Dems own the failed Obamacare disaster, with its poor coverage and massive premium increases."
However, over two news conferences following the Senate vote, Pence, along with Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, failed to provide more details on what a Republican health plan might look like.
Ryan said Republican lawmakers have plenty of ideas and would forge a policy that does not "pull the rug out from anybody."
Democrats have accused the GOP lawmakers of tearing apart Obamacare without a firm plan to replace it.
Signed into law in 2010, the Affordable Care Act increased funding for states to expand Medicaid healthcare programs, expanding insurance provisions to millions of people, particularly in the poorer brackets of society. The law also provides government subsidies to help poorer people access coverage from private insurers.
However, Republicans have long decried the law, saying it has made health insurance premiums soar and left customers with less choice. Trump, however, has pledged to keep popular aspects of the act, such as the provisions that bar companies from refusing coverage due to preexisting conditions.
Official figures suggest that some 30 million Americans still do not have access to healthcare, almost 10 percent of the US population.
Obama urges Democrats to fight for healthcare law
Obama made a rare trip to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to urge Democratic senators to protect one of his main policy accomplishments.
"Look out for the American people" and "keep up the fight," Obama reportedly told fellow Democrats. "Tell the stories about the people who have benefited from it. The more you can get that message through, the better off we're going to be."
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Obama did not offer "tactical advice" to prevent Republican efforts to repeal the healthcare law, but said the president believed "that these are principles that are worth fighting for; that healthcare is not a privilege."
"We know there are people all across the country who benefit from this law, who are protected by this law, whose lives have been saved by this law," Earnest added, a point Obama is believed to have made when he hosted Trump at the White House shortly after the election in November.
Democrats, meanwhile, decried Republican moves to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. "Instead of working to further ensure affordable care for all Americans, they seek to rip health care away from millions of Americans, creating chaos in our entire economy," said a charged Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
Adopting the President-elect's slogan, Schumer accused the Republican Party of wanting to "make America sick again."
However, a minority in the Senate coupled with a crushing presidential election loss means Democrats have few options to prevent the repeal of Obamacare. Given the circumstances, keeping the law alive in some sort of form would likely be seen as a success for the Democrats.
dm/cmk (Reuters, AP, dpa, AFP)