Health care on the Hill: the discussions set to dominate this year's debate

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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - In just a matter of days, the country’s eyes will turn to President Trump as he lays out his plan for the year ahead in his State of the Union Address.

One of last year’s most controversial debates is sure to come up again: health care. But, Congress may largely adopt a wait-and-see approach.

“I am calling on all democrats and republicans in Congress to work with us to save Americans from this imploding Obamacare disaster,” President Donald Trump said in Joint Address to Congress last February.

Later in 2017, republicans did scrap the tax for not having health insurance. But, their attempts to fully repeal the Affordable Care Act failed. That debate could resurface this year – but is unlikely to stay at the top of the Republicans' agenda.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) says his bi-partisan proposal will limit increases in the cost of health insurance. “Even the strongest repeal and replacers – and I’ve been one of those too – are for our legislation,” he said.

Alexander said he expects it to pass by Valentine’s day, and the president is behind him. “With that kind of support, I think we’re likely to succeed,” he said.

On the left, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) said he’ll fight to continue funding for health centers in rural areas. He said he wants the government insurance to cover every American, but expects the president to propose cutting access to care.

“What we have got to do is do everything we can to resist Trump,” Sanders said.

Joan Alker is a Research Professor at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy. “I just think it’s very unlikely that anything significant will pass this year,” she said.

Alker said health care costs generally rise no matter which party is in power. The subject is politically-fraught, and federal lawmakers are likely to avoid it as much as possible during an election year. “We’ll see probably more action at the state level -- of all different kinds -- than really anything at the federal level coming to fruition,” she said.

Ten states are working on adding a work requirement for Medicaid. In Vermont, lawmakers will consider creating a state health insurance mandate after Congress scrapped the federal tax penalty late last year.

Congress did reach an agreement Monday to continue covering nine million children under the popular CHIP program. That issue had been caught up in the shutdown debate.

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