GOP Lawmakers Divided On Keeping Obamacare's Young Adult Insurance Provision

GOP Lawmakers Divided On Keeping Obamacare's Young Adult Insurance Provision

Erin Mershon, Greg Rosalsky, Cole Stangler, Nate Willis and Jeffrey Young contributed reporting.

WASHINGTON -- Congressional Republicans may not have been happy about the Supreme Court's ruling upholding the Affordable Care Act, but many of their children probably are.

According to an analysis by The Huffington Post, dozens of Republicans who want to repeal Obamacare have adult children who are allowed to stay on their parents' health plans thanks to the law, which extended this benefit nationwide. Many of the lawmakers' children are employed and on their own health care plans, but others continue to take advantage of their parents' coverage.

"He [My 24-year-old son] is on his health plan right now -- on his mother's plan -- but again, that wouldn’t weigh in on where I stand on the issue," said Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) last week, before the Supreme Court handed down its ruling. "Again, I just think the whole thing needs to be scrapped. And I don’t even want to think about certain provisions yet."

But Walsh and his GOP colleagues are soon going to have to start thinking about which provisions they want to keep if they are going to try to repeal Obamacare. Republicans are almost completely unified in wanting to get rid of the health care law, but they are significantly more divided on what a plan would look like going forward -- and whether they should keep some of the law's most popular provisions.

On Sunday, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said Republicans would not require parents' health insurance plans to extend eligibility to adult children if Obamacare is repealed.

Walsh demurred when asked if he supported maintaining the provision.

“No, I don’t know that I do. I don’t know that I do," he said. "I don't know where I am on that, and that's a lousy thing to say. My oldest is 24. That doesn’t matter to me, though, irregardless of that."

Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Nev.), however, wants to keep it.

"There are good things in the health care bill, and that's one of them," said Amodei, who has a 25-year-old daughter with her own health insurance. "I haven't talked with anybody who thinks that's something we ought to get rid of."

"I support it. Oh, sure. ... It would be [incorporated] in any Republican proposal," added Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), whose 22-year-old son is a full-time student.

So far, Republicans have not put forward a comprehensive alternative plan to Obamacare, focusing mostly on talk of "patient-centered reforms" that allow the "market to work." While three large health insurance companies promised to keep covering adult children on their parents' plans regardless of the Supreme Court ruling, many children would have lost coverage if the court had struck the law down.

Since the Affordable Care Act became law in March 2010, the share of Americans aged 18 to 25 without health insurance dropped to 23 percent from 28 percent.

Before the law was passed, 34 states had enacted laws that extended eligibility for adult children to stay on their parents' health plans, according to a study published in the journal Pediatrics and conducted by researchers at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. But as the National Conference of State Legislatures noted, many of these states had tighter restrictions on the age and other eligibility requirements for dependents than are in the Affordable Care Act.

After Colorado, New Jersey and South Dakota enacted mandates for young people in 2005 and 2006, young adults reported increases in health insurance coverage, more physical exams, a greater likelihood of having a primary care physician and fewer occasions when they went without medical care because of costs than their counterparts in 17 states that do not mandate insurance coverage for that age group.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) has at least one of his daughters on his health care plan (he isn't sure about the second). He said he liked the provision. He believes, however, that the market would have provided the extra coverage for adult children, even if the Supreme Court had struck down the Affordable Care Act.

"They're going to continue that [provision] anyway," he said. "I think the insurance companies have all kind of decided that that's an okay thing. They were in our office, they've been in our office in the last few weeks."

The reason that health insurers began widely offering such benefits, however, is because Obamacare mandated it. The provision proved to be extremely popular with the American public. Without the law in place, it's unclear how long insurers would continue to offer such coverage, since they would no longer be required to do so.

Rep. Scott Rigell (R-Va.) has a 21-year-old daughter on his health care plan, which his spokeswoman noted was not the federal plan that members of Congress receive. He has declined federal benefits -- including health insurance and retirement -- and instead has coverage through a private insurance plan that he pays for through his business, Freedom Automotive.

Rigell was not elected until 2010, after Congress had already voted for health care reform, but he would like to see it repealed going forward. Still, he also said he supports the provision covering young adults.

"I think that is a good provision," he said. "There are parts of the Affordable Care Act that I support."

Rep. Bob Turner (R-N.Y.), however, was less sure.

"I haven’t really thought too much about this," he said. "I do know, whether your kid is 22 or 26, who’s gonna pay for that? Is it everybody pays for that or is it the person who has the kids pays for it? So I'm gonna let this sort itself out when we get through the bill."

"I don't think this is going to be one of the biggest drivers of things -- that particularly," Turner said. "High-risk pools, portability -- such important issues. This one has some merit, but I don't consider this one important."

Lawmakers who want to both keep their children on their health plans and repeal the Affordable Care Act could face political problems, as has Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.).

Brown has said his 23-year-old daughter is still on his health care plan, despite his opposition to Obamacare.

"Of course I do," he replied when the Boston Globe asked him whether he keeps his daughter on his plan.

Elizabeth Warren, Brown's Democratic challenger, immediately hit him with charges of hypocrisy, with a spokeswoman saying, "He says he likes being able to keep his daughter on the family health insurance plan; what he doesn't say is that he voted to stop other parents from doing the same."

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